Palin's way in

You might have read that Sarah Palin's popularity continues to fade, and a new Bloomberg poll finds her with a 60 percent unfavorable rating. No matter, says former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) in our paper today. Gregg writes in his weekly column that the primary process in 2012, which currently lacks a front-runner or even two, could last longer than the extended Democratic primary battle in 2008 between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and potentially favor someone like Palin.
 
Traditionally, explains Gregg, New Hampshire's first GOP primary quickly follows the Iowa caucuses and narrows the field to two contenders, who battle from then on in South Carolina, Florida and elsewhere for the nomination. Next year, he said, it is likely that even candidates who do well in Iowa with social conservatives but not in New Hampshire could be revived later in, and thereby lengthen, the process. Gregg argues it is plausible that in the 2012 GOP convention, no one will know who the nominee is as they arrive in Tampa, Fla. This means a candidate who ran in second or third place in the primaries could arrive at the convention with a substantial number of delegates and pull off a win.
 
"Who would this favor? Does Sarah Palin come to mind? Although she is not viewed by most as strong enough to win, she is viewed by many as a person worth voting for to make a statement. And primaries tend to be populated by people who go to the polls with the purpose of making a statement," writes Gregg.  
 
Palin's downward turn in the polls, along with the fact that she has yet to make any significant moves to prepare for a run, has led political observers to question whether she will indeed take the plunge. And a new report in New York Magazine about Palin rejecting the advice of Roger Ailes to stay out of the Tucson shooting story in January (she made her now-famous "blood libel" video anyway) states that though Palin could wait until the fall or later to declare candidacy in the presidential race because she is so well-known, "Fox executives have been discussing when they need a definite answer from Palin on her presidential ambitions." The article states also that should Palin participate in the GOP presidential debate Fox is hosting on Friday, May 5, in South Carolina, Palin's contract with Fox would be suspended, as have those of former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who have begun serious preparations for presidential campaigns.
 
So either way, we can expect Palin to take longer than the others to make up her mind — or to finally reveal how she already has. As of now, she isn't booked for any debates, hasn't engaged the major fundraisers and is leaving doubts. But as Gregg points out, even a late entrance and mediocre showing could catapult her to the top. Not that Gregg wants that to happen. "Finishing second or third isn't really a big deal — until you get enough delegates to be the nominee. And picking a nominee who it seems would be easily defeated by President Obama might not be the best statement."
 
Get ready for a long ride.
 

MUST OBAMA GET INVOLVED IN BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS? Ask A.B. returns Tuesday, March 15. Please join my weekly video Q&A by sending your questions and comments to askab@thehill.com. Thank you.

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