POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, May 26, 2011
WASHINGTON » Sarah Palin is fortifying her small staff of advisers, buying a house in Arizona — where associates have said she could base a national campaign — and reviving her schedule of public appearances. The moves are the most concrete signals yet that Palin, the former governor of Alaska, is seriously weighing a Republican presidential bid.
While it is by no means clear that she would be willing to give up her lucrative speaking career and her perch as an analyst on Fox News to face the scrutiny and combat that would come with her entrance into the race, she is being pressed by supporters for a decision and has acknowledged that time is running out.
Two people familiar with the details of the real estate transaction said Palin and her husband, Todd, have bought a $1.7 million house in Scottsdale, Ariz. Like others interviewed for this article, they would speak only on the condition of anonymity so as not to anger the Palins, who have become especially protective of their privacy in the maelstrom that has followed them since 2008. The Arizona Republic reported over the weekend on speculation in Scottsdale that the Palins were the buyers of the house, reporting the purchase was through a shell company that hid their identity.
While Arizona would be a more convenient travel hub for a presidential campaign than Alaska, there are other reasons the Palins might want a house there. Their daughter Bristol recently bought a house in Maricopa, which is near Scottsdale.
Palin has reshuffled her staff, rehiring two aides who have helped plan her political events. And she is expected to resume a schedule of public appearances soon — perhaps as early as this weekend — to raise her profile at a moment when the Republican presidential field appears to be taking final form.
The drumbeat intensified Tuesday night when conservative filmmaker Stephen K. Bannon was quoted on RealClearPolitics, a political news site, as saying that he was releasing a feature film he made with Palin's acquiescence about her tenure as governor. The film is to be shown next month in Iowa, whose caucuses open the nominating contest.
Taken together, the moves are at odds with conventional wisdom — if not wishful thinking — among establishment Republicans in Washington that Palin has decided not to run. That thinking has been voiced increasingly as the party's professional political class, which Palin has railed against, has sought to declare the field of candidates closed.
Palin would undoubtedly be able to raise substantial campaign financing and attract constant media attention if she ran. But she is a divisive figure in the party and would have to overcome what polls have consistently suggested is skepticism and even opposition to her among some fellow Republicans.
Still, supporters of Palin say that her constituency beyond the Beltway remains eager, and aides and associates have said she is receptive to their calls of "Run, Sarah, run."
"All indications are that she will be in — her supporters have an intuition about it," said Jeff Jorgensen, chairman of the Republican Party of Pottawattamie County, Iowa, where Palin came in second in a straw poll last week. "People are looking for somebody, a Ronald Reagan reincarnate, who does not seem to be out there yet."
If she were to enter the race, Palin would draw significant attention in a field that now features three other former governors — Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Jon M. Huntsman Jr. of Utah and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota — and a smattering of other hopefuls, including Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.
None of the likely and declared candidates have fully galvanized the Tea Party activists who form the core of Palin's support.
When asked about her deliberations, Palin's aides have pointed to recent televised interviews that they said were indicative of her thinking.
"I want to make sure that we have a candidate out there with Tea Party principles," she told the Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity last week.
"We have got to have faith that the Republican Party is going to surface somebody who can take on both sides of the aisle," she said on Fox Business Network.
Raising concerns about "sacrifices that have to be made on my children's part," she nonetheless told Fox News Channel host Greta Van Susteren, "I have that fire in my belly."
Palin has shown that she is able to command maximum media attention when she wants it, and her book sales and public speaking fees depend to some degree upon her stature as a possible national leader.
Some of the staff changes she has made also serve the interests of her one-woman media conglomerate. In February, she hired a new chief of staff, Michael Glassner, a former adviser to Sen. Bob Dole, who was the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, a step that sent the blogosphere buzzing that she would soon enter the race. But Palin is busy enough that she needs such a chief of staff in any case.
She recently parted ways with a communications aide, Michael Goldfarb, and with her foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, who is often tied to the neoconservative movement, bringing in a less hawkish adviser, Peter Schweizer. After dismissing two aides, Jason Recher and Doug McMarlin, who worked in the White House for President George W. Bush, she has recently rehired them.
And one of her advisers, Rebecca A. Mansour, had an embarrassing moment this week when the conservative political website The Daily Caller published messages she wrote to an online friend that included, among other things, criticism of Palin's daughter Bristol. Palin's aides have acknowledged that she will need a more disciplined operation if she pursues the presidency. But they have also said that in contrast with other hopefuls, she still has time to achieve that, because her network of supporters can be activated almost instantly.
Palin has identified the first filing deadlines to qualify for state primary and caucus ballots, telling Van Susteren, "that's what will dictate my decision and my announcement." The first of those deadlines do not arise until the fall, but meeting them can require arduous work that cannot start in earnest without a formal declaration.
Ryan Rhodes, a leader of the Tea Party movement in Iowa, said state voters expect candidates to invest real time there. A Tea Party bus tour through the state in June, Rhodes said, would be an ideal place for her to demonstrate her seriousness.
"She'll be on the top of a lot of people's minds," he said.