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Poll Shows Palin Strong in Iowa Caucus

DES MOINES, Iowa - Sarah Palin could expect a lot of support in Iowa's Republican caucuses if she launched a campaign for the 2012 presidential nomination, according to The Des Moines Register's Iowa Poll.

But the rising national figure, who is scheduled to stop in Iowa next month on her national book tour, would also have to contend with a lot of doubts about her - unlike her potential rivals, the poll found.

The first public poll to test Palin's favorability in the leadoff nominating state found 55 percent of all Iowans hold an unfavorable opinion of Palin a little more than a year after the last election. Only 37 percent feel favorably about her.

And those feelings are intense: More than twice as many Iowans feel very unfavorable toward her as feel very favorable.

But more than two-thirds of Republicans like what they see, making her a credible candidate for the 2012 caucuses should she decide to run for president, strategists say.

"These numbers put her in a position where she can obviously look at Iowa," said David Winston, a national Republican pollster. "But she has this big jump that she's got to overcome. People like her personally on the Republican side, but there's this policy substance question."

Only 8 percent of Iowans are unsure about Palin just 15 months after the former Alaska governor burst on the national scene.

The 45-year-old self-styled "hockey mom" ignited the Republican National Convention as an establishment outsider, and quickly became a focal point of the media during the 2008 campaign's final months. Iowa Republican activists raved when John McCain named her his running mate and later turned out in big, enthusiastic audiences as she campaigned solo for the ticket in Des Moines, Dubuque and Sioux City.

Iowans' feelings about Palin track generally with the national mood. A Washington Post-ABC News national survey taken this month showed 52 percent of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of Palin, compared to 42 percent favorable.

Marlys Popma, a former Iowa Republican Party director and leading GOP activist, said Palin was treated poorly by the McCain campaign and the news media, but she can now reintroduce herself on her own terms.

"This is a smart, bright driven woman who got herself from city council, to mayor to governor exactly because she is smart, bright and driven," said Popma, who was an adviser to McCain in Iowa. "So, I think her unfavorable ratings are because she is misunderstood and has taken the brunt of mistakes that are not her own. She's getting the chance to set the record straight."

Palin has said little about her plans since leaving office, but has not ruled out running for president.

"If there is an open door in '12 or four years later, and if it is something that is going to be good for my family, for my state, for my nation, an opportunity for me, then I'll plow through that door," she said last week in a Fox News interview.

If she runs, she would not be the first candidate to launch a caucus campaign facing well-formed opinions among Iowans. Only 5 percent of Iowans said in a 2004 Iowa Poll they were unsure how they felt about Hillary Clinton.

The New York senator and former first lady went on to wage a competitive campaign for the 2008 Iowa caucuses and outlasted all Democrats for the presidential nomination except Barack Obama, who was nominated and elected.

Clinton battled higher negative ratings than her fellow Democrats, and worked to beat them back by meeting with would-be supporters in intimate settings.

"One of the ways Clinton drove down her negatives is she engaged in conversations, in small groups in places like homes," said Dianne Bystrom, a political science professor at Iowa State University. "That's the same thing Sarah Palin can do."

Unlike in Palin's case, however, more Iowans viewed Clinton favorably than unfavorably prior to her presidential bid. Also, Clinton's liabilities were different than Palin's, Bystrom said.

Clinton, who worked to present herself as a seasoned leader, was viewed as too much a part of the political establishment, which worked against her in an election where voters wanted change, said Bystrom, who is co-authoring a book on Cinton and Palin.

"Palin comes in as a more traditional woman candidate in that people doubt her leadership and experience," said Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women in Politics.

Iowa Republicans view Palin about as favorably as they do former Ark Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the 2008 caucuses, and U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. More view Palin favorably than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, runner-up in the 2008 caucuses.

Huckabee, Romney and Gingrich are considered 2012 prospects.

"With those kind of numbers, if she were to become a candidate, while it's not a sure thing, she would be starting out in a very good position," said veteran Iowa GOP strategist David Roederer, who ran McCain's 2008 Iowa campaign.

But nearly a quarter of Iowa Republicans view Palin unfavorably, twice as many as Huckabee.

Although 60 percent of Iowa conservatives view Palin favorably, Huckabee rates higher. Twice as many moderates view Huckabee favorably as Palin, according to the poll.

Some county-level activists attribute those higher negative feelings for Palin to her decision to resign the governorship in July.

Ann Trimble Ray, an enthusiastic Palin supporter last year, said the move hurt her opinion of Palin.

Trimble Ray, a GOP activist from Early, and other Iowa Republicans who have expressed confusion about Palin's decision say she needs a policy platform, with a conservative organization or media outlet, to boost her credibility, should she decide to run.

"I'm hoping Sarah Palin finds a spot for herself where she can put to use her skills and abilities so she can prove to Americans she's up to the job," said Trimble Ray, Sac County GOP co-chairwoman.

Palin plans to make her first appearance in Iowa since the 2008 election on Dec. 6, when her national book tour for "Going Rogue" rolls into Sioux City.

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