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What’s Next for Sarah Palin?

sarah_palin3WASHINGTON - One of the big questions in Republican politics is what does Sarah Palin want?

Palin fires up conservative crowds at Republican gatherings and tea party events like no other figure. She has endorsed conservative candidates in Republican House and Senate primaries, sometimes bucking the GOP establishment.

Along the way, the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee has earned an estimated $12 million from giving speeches and writing a best-selling book in the nine months since she resigned last July, according to ABC News.

Republicans like her, Democrats intensely dislike her, and independents are cool to her.

In short, she is both energizer and polarizer.

It's a condition that could be a big advantage in Republican presidential primaries in 2012, but a partisan weight after the nominating dust settles. Even Americans who like her are dubious about her as their possible president.

"I just wish I had a better handle on her personal motivation," said Marty Dettmer, 62, a dentist from Wheaton, Ill., who attended a tea party rally here this month. "If she is just trying to make money I am fine with that. If she just seized the brass ring that was held in front of her, wonderful, that is the American way. But if she really thinks this is going to be her path to a major politically party nomination ... I could not support that."

Dettmer said Palin "supports ideas that are aligned with mine," but is "too polarizing" to run for president.

A late March Washington Post-ABC poll supports him. In that survey, 55 percent had an unfavorable view of Palin and 37 percent had a favorable view. But 66 percent of Republicans were favorable, while only 15 percent of Democrats and 38 percent of independents were. Negative intensity toward Palin is greatest: 61 percent of Democrats said they were strongly unfavorable while only 35 percent of Republicans were strongly favorable.

The March 23-26 poll of 1,000 adults had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

No matter what she decides to do, Palin should not be underestimated. If the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries again kick off the nominating process, she would start with momentum-building advantages no other candidate would have.

Palin's appeal to evangelicals and fiscal conservatives would be formidable in Iowa, where the caucuses tend to be heavily attended by people with those political leanings.

"If she got into the race, at least in terms of Iowa, she would be the person to beat," said GOP pollster Ed Goeas.

And Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said that New Hampshire, where Hillary Clinton won a Democratic primary in 2008, has a tradition of being more receptive to female candidates than other early nominating states.

Even if Palin doesn't run, her endorsement will be coveted.

"Whether she runs for president or does not run for president she is going to be a part of what is happening in the presidential campaign," Goeas said at a recent Christian Science Monitor breakfast.

But Lake and Goeas both say Palin hurt her chances to be a presidential candidate by resigning before her term as governor in Alaska ended.

"That governorship allowed her to define herself as presidential material," Lake said. "I think running around energizing your (Republican) base, which she is doing ... doesn't really allow her to define herself as a president."

Lake says surveys still show that the presidential acceptance threshold is higher for women than it is for men, which hurts an out-of-office Palin even more.

"We should remember the only woman that voters continue to see really qualified in either party for president ... is Hillary Clinton," Lake said. "In that case they may or may not like her, but they think that she can handle the job."

Some who think Palin could handle the job still think she should not run.

"I believe she is very knowledgeable and would make a very good president," said Bob Kahl, 58, a contractor from Baltimore County, Md., who attended the tea party rally here last week. "Unfortunately there is a lot of hate against her because of who she is and what she represents. She will never make it."

Others think Palin has found a niche.

"She has the voice of the people whether she runs for a bigger office or not," said Shirley Gibson, 67, a retired railroad accountant from Philadelphia. "Maybe this is her calling, to get people energized."

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