Sarah Palin ended months of speculation Wednesday when she announced she will not run for president.
Her decision locks the GOP presidential field into place, but has disappointed some conservatives who had expressed unhappiness with their 2012 choices.
“I’m thankful that, not being a candidate, really you’re unshackled and you’re allowed to be even more active,” Palin said on Mark Levin’s radio show. “I look forward to helping coordinate the strategies that will assist in replacing our president and retaking the Senate, maintaining the House, helping good constitutional conservatives be elected to the governors’ seats around this nation.”
Palin, who was Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) vice-presidential running mate in 2008, had been recruited by her supporters to make a presidential bid, but repeatedly declined to give an answer, leaving the door open for a last-minute run.
Various self-imposed deadlines came and went, and still Palin said she was considering her options, stoking speculation with a national bus tour and an appearance in Iowa days before the influential Ames Straw Poll.
That ended Wednesday night, however.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) was the first presidential candidate to respond publicly to Palin’s decision, calling her a friend, a patriot and a great American.
“I respect her decision and know she will continue to be a strong voice for conservative values and needed change in Washington,” Perry said in a statement.
Palin’s endorsements — and her fundraising apparatus — will be sought-after prizes for all the GOP candidates. Yet the candidate who could most benefit from Palin’s decision not to run is likely to be Rep. Michele Bachmann (R), who appealed to a similar group of socially conservative voters as Palin, as well as those hoping to see the first woman in the Oval Office.
Perry and businessman Herman Cain — who both appeal to a similar base of Tea Party-influenced voters as Bachmann — also stand to benefit.
For former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Palin’s absence in the race foils an opportunity for the right-wing base to be split among numerous candidates and leave Romney as the only man standing with a substantial base of support.
McCain tweeted Wednesday night that Palin will remain an influence on the political scene.
“Sarah announces she’s not running for president — I am confident she’ll continue to play an important role in our Party and for our nation,” he wrote.
A divisive voice in American politics, Palin was one of the earliest figureheads for the Tea Party movement, voicing a passionate argument for limited government and adopting a populist, blue-collar style that contrasted with the more intellectual approach of many of her colleagues in both parties.
Palin declined to endorse any of the Republican candidates on Wednesday, but did not rule out endorsing at a later date.
In a letter to supporters, Palin cited her family as one of her reasons for not running.
“After much prayer and serious consideration, I have decided that I will not be seeking the 2012 GOP nomination for president of the United States. As always, my family comes first and obviously Todd and I put great consideration into family life before making this decision,” she wrote in the email, which was obtained by ABC News.
Palin ruled out the prospect of running for president on a third-party ticket, calling that option unlikely to be successful.
“I would assume that a third party would just guarantee [President] Obama’s reelection, and that’s the last thing that our republic can afford,” she said on the radio show.
The former governor was scheduled to appear on the “Greta Van Susteren” show Wednesday evening to discuss her decision.
The ticking clock made it more and more unlikely Palin would have been a contender. The drop-dead deadline for her to enter the race would likely have been the end of October, the filing deadline to be placed on the ballot in states with the earliest primary contests.
Most Republicans said it was too late in the cycle for her to enter the race and build a viable campaign, with just a few months left before the first primary contests. Although Palin has an active political action committee she uses to support fellow Republican politicians, she lacked a state-by-state infrastructure of volunteers and workers capable of organizing a full-fledged presidential campaign overnight.
She would have also had to resign from Fox News, where she is a paid contributor. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) both took that step before jumping into the race.
The notion that the 2012 GOP field was set and that it was too late for Palin to enter was bolstered by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s announcement Tuesday that he would not run for president.
Like Palin, Christie had been actively courted by enthusiastic Republican donors and activists. Each had supporters who argued the normal timeline for candidates to enter the race did not apply to them.
-- This story was updated at 7:45 p.m.