By Gregory W. Wallace
IS PALIN’S PLOY WORKING?—Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, and Sarah Palin share a few elements in common: all three were governors, are included in 2012 contender polling, and are currently on tour. But one of these things is not like the others. Ms. Palin, of Alaska, lacks a 2012 credential which her peers of Massachusetts and Utah, respectively, possess: an impending declaration of candidacy. Mr. Romney arrives in the state on Thursday and has plans to announce his campaign at a Stratham farm; Mr. Huntsman, who is expected to announce his campaign next week, arrives Friday for a three day visit to the North Country.
But their visits, as well as former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani’s Thursday evening fundraising speech and Friday event with business leaders, are overshadowed by a cloud which may—but without guarantee, nor accurate forecast—arrive in New Hampshire at the same time as their events.
Ms. Palin’s bus tour, a cloud which began with a rumble of (Rolling) Thunder in Washington, D.C. last weekend, is drawing major media attention, despite the reality that nobody knows where she is going. Is she going to New Hampshire, to Iowa, or to launch a campaign? She professes to be on the fence about a presidential run (and maintains that this bus trip is not a campaign), but in an interview with Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren on Tuesday, Ms. Palin said that she has an itinerary for the bus tour. Not everyone, however, is convinced. “I'm not sure why Palin's plans -- the bus tour, the movie -- and pronouncements get covered and parsed like the Talmud as opposed to like the offhand remarks of someone doing this on the fly,” Politico’s Ben Smith writes. “There's really no evidence at all that she has a plan.”
On board the bus yesterday, Ms. Palin did tell Ms. Van Susteren—in jest—that the tour plans would not be announced because diesel fuel is expensive and the trip could see a premature end if funds become tight.
Wherever the bus finally parks, it is a ploy to regain attention and retain political relevance—and, so far, it is successful.
Other candidates, like Messrs. Huntsman and Romney, have invested in advance work and expecting these events to pay off in their attempts to connect with voters. True, their travels yield deeper dividends in guaranteed opportunities to speak with supporters and voters, but until now, fans of Ms. Palin have managed to follow her bus and satisfy their basic autograph and handshake needs. The same could hold true in New Hampshire, where even party officials have said publicly that they have not been contacted about Ms. Palin’s New Hampshire plans for this week.
WHY THE FASCINATION?—Why is there so much to be said on the possible candidate of whose intentions we know the least? Ms. Palin is taking to the next level the step where possible candidates and the media alike have the most fun: the exploratory phase. Without the chain of commitment and the mood-killer of policy debates, potential candidates get to call the shots and set the frame. With or without planning, Ms. Palin created an arrangement where she calls the shots—and the media is hooked by the thrill of this chase.
Like a magnet, Ms. Palin has drawn attention. But she must accept another property of magnets, too: they are, by nature, polarized and polarizing.
On WEDNESDAY, there are no Granite State candidate visits.
QUOTING PALIN—From The Los Angeles Times: “When a customer announced that his birthday was Dec. 16, ‘which is the Boston Tea Party,’ Palin replied, ‘Awww. All right! Party like it's 1773.’”