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Posted at 4:05 PM ET, 03/ 3/2011

Sarah Palin's Iowa problem

By Rachel Weiner



Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin speaks during the Republican Party of Iowa's Ronald Reagan Dinner, Sept. 17, 2010, in Des Moines, Iowa. AP Photo by Charlie Neibergall

Updated at 4:05 p.m.

Sarah Palin's lack of presence in Iowa is leaving local Republicans scratching their heads.

In August, the Fix wrote that former Alaska governor Sarah Palin had almost no presidential ground operation in the first-in-the-nation state. Six months later, as the presidential race begins in earnest, that's still true. She's held a few high-profile events in the state, but she hasn't had the one-on-one meetings with activists that other potential presidential contenders are lining up. She's avoided speaking invitations.

Other potential contenders, especially former House speaker Newt Gingrich and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, have been putting a lot of work into the state. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has also started testing the waters.

Palin appears to be relying on her social conservative credibility and national fame to keep her competitive in the first test of the 2012 election. On Thursday, Iowa Republican Chairman Matt Strawn said counting on name recognition in the state is "a very risky strategy."

"Unless Sarah Palin begins reaching out to Iowa operatives and activists soon, she runs the risk of digging herself a hole that even her celebrity won't pull her out of," Tim Albrecht, communications director for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R), told The Fix.

Craig Robinson, the local GOP's political director in the last cycle, made a similar point a blog post Wednesday: "The Sarah Palin fan club needs to realize that it takes more to run for president than just posting things or endorsing candidates via Facebook. If she is considering running for president, she has a ton of work to do in a state like Iowa."

A recent poll backs up those assertion. A recent Des Moines Register survey found Palin's favorability rating slipping among likely Republican voters.

Iowa has a history of skepticism when it comes to celebrity candidates. In 2008, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton was late to Iowa, thinking her fame would give her a head start. Both fared terribly. As Strawn said, "If you want the votes of the Iowa caucus-goers, you have to be in Iowa asking for them." He added that while the campaign was off to a later start than it was in 2008, in the past two weeks "things have picked up dramatically."

"She hasn't been active in the state. And Iowans have that expectation and a feeling of responsibility to see these people up close," Republican consultant Adam Geller told the Register.

One possible takeaway from Palin's weak Iowa operation is that she isn't running for president. "At this point, I believe her inaction here signals an unwillingness to run," Albrecht said. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who is openly ambivalent about a presidential run, is also lagging on groundwork in the state. Huckabee, however, has plenty of contacts in Iowa from his 2008 run, and many caucus-goers got to know him in that cycle.

Palin's not ignoring Iowa at the expense of other states: her ground game in New Hampshire is equally lackluster. But losing the social conservatives of Iowa would be a more serious blow to her campaign. If Palin is planning to run, she needs to start talking to them.

By Rachel Weiner  | March 3, 2011; 4:05 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2012  
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Next: Afternoon Fix: Issa hires new spokesperson, Giffords listed as vulnerable

 
 
 
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