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By Jay Cost

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Is Sarah Palin Running for President?

She might be. She's doing the same "will she/ won't she" dance with reelection that Tim Pawlenty was doing just a few months ago - and we all know how that ended with T-Paw. This is from Politico:

Top Republicans and Democrats across Alaska are quietly lining up to run for governor amid growing speculation that Sarah Palin will not seek reelection in 2010.

No candidate, including Palin, has yet filed papers with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Palin's office declined an opportunity to explain her thinking on the 2010 race, and the Republican Governors Association said it would not comment on discussions it has had with the governor.

But a number of Democrats and Republicans in Alaska and Washington who spoke to POLITICO believe her silence is a sign she will not pursue a second term as governor so that she can play a larger role on the national political stage.

A "larger role on the national political stage?" Hmmm...

Why would reelection as governor interfere with playing "a larger role?" If she was simply looking to be a more prominent spokeswoman for the Republican party, being a sitting governor would be an asset. However, it would probably interfere with a presidential run. For starters, the logistics of balancing the jobs of Alaska governor and presidential candidate would be burdensome, to say the least. Juneau is nearly a two day, 2000-mile drive from Seattle. Having Alaska as a home base while traveling around the country would be extremely expensive and time-consuming. McCain, Clinton, and Obama demonstrated that ambitious pols can still technically serve in the Senate while campaigning for President in the age of the permanent campaign - but it's another story when contemplating a run for the presidency from a position in Alaska.

But is that what she's up to? I'm not entirely convinced. Obviously, if she ran, she would be a fundraising dynamo. She would probably be quite strong in the southern primaries and midwestern caucuses. However, she has two big obstacles that stand in her way.

First, her negatives are very high. Pew recently found her net favorability at just +1, with 44% of Americans having an unfavorable view. Other polls have shown similar results. This is actually an improvement for her relative to the Pew poll from October, 2008 when her net favorability was negative. For whatever reason, Palin seemed to have been a proxy battle in the ongoing culture war last cycle, which was otherwise on hold because the two top contenders didn't want to engage in it. This is not a good position from which to launch a presidential candidacy. Ideally, you want a very high net favorability - or, barring that, a large percentage of people who have no opinion of you either way. My hunch is that Republican primary voters in many blue states will be less enamored of her - and their votes, while irrelevant in the general election, really count in party primaries.

Second, she's the governor of Alaska. There's an informal hierarchy for political jobs in this country. It's such that only a few positions have been stepping stones to the presidency: general, vice-president, senator, secretary of state, and governor. That pretty much covers it. As chief executive of Alaska, Palin technically fits the bill. However, Alaska is a thinly populated state. It has fewer people than every state but Vermont, North Dakota, and Wyoming. In fact, the mayor of Indianapolis is responsible for more people than Sarah Palin. Will the public think a single term as governor of Alaska is sufficient preparation for the presidency? I have my doubts. I'm reminded of Dennis Miller's crack about Howard Dean's candidacy in 2004: "What did you ever do in your life except be the head guy in a state where your main job was to come out once a year, pound a nail into a tree and hang a bucket off it?"

I think Palin's best bet is to win election to the Senate. That would be a way to burnish her credentials. It might also give her an opportunity to improve her public image. She might follow in the footsteps of Harry Truman - who was thought to be the "Senator from Pendergast" until he made a name for himself going after wartime waste and corruption from his perch as the chairman of the Special Committee Investigating National Defense. The problem for Palin, of course, is that her first shot at that job is not until 2014. She won't challenge Lisa Murkowski, which means that a run against Mark Begich in five years would be her first opportunity.

We'll see what she does, but I think it would be a real stretch for her to run for the presidency in 2012. I think she has enormous political talent, and that she was treated unfairly last cycle (though that's the breaks in politics!) - but I just don't think she's well-positioned for a run next cycle.

-Jay Cost