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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 12/17/2010

Why Sarah Palin could struggle in 2012

By Chris Cillizza

1. Sarah Palin has been making the rounds with more traditional media of late, a development that has people rightly wagering that she may be inching toward a presidential run.

The former Alaska governor, who has built a massive following through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter seems to now recognize that building a national campaign requires more than starring in a reality TV show and communicating with her supporters only through tweets and status updates.

But as she seeks to build a brand heading into the slow-starting 2012 presidential race, a major question looms: Can she win?

If you're talking about a Republican primary, then the answer is most definitely yes as Palin is a beloved figure among many conservative GOPers. When you're talking about the general election, however, it's a different story.

Palin continues to struggle with high negatives as she embarks on her media tour, and according to the new Washington Post-ABC News poll, well more than half of the country won't even hear her out.

Nearly three in five adults -- 59 percent -- say they are dead-set against the idea of President Palin, and they will "definitely not" vote for her.

Barring a highly competitive third-party candidate, Palin would need to win somewhere close to 50 percent of the vote in a head-to-head matchup with President Obama. That means she would need to win the votes of millions of people who say today that they see no circumstances under which they would vote for her.

The depth of the anybody-but-Palin sentiment comes into focus when you compare Palin to another polarizing female politician -- Hillary Clinton. When the Post/ABC poll asked the same question two years before the 2008 presidential race, just 42 percent of Americans said they would definitely not vote for Clinton.

That's a big difference -- especially considering how polarizing Clinton was supposed to be with the general electorate.

And say what you will about Sen. John McCain's 2008 campaign but he started the race with only 28 percent of Americans saying they would not vote for him under any circumstance. Even President Obama, whose approval numbers have seen better days, registers just 43 percent on the same question.

The problem for Palin is the vast majority of voters know her and a solid majority have already decided how they feel about her. Palin would have a lot of work to do to re-shape the negative public image of her among a relatively broad swath of the electorate.

She still has plenty of time to do just that but building broad appeal during a Republican primary isn't an easy task as the tendency is to cater to the conservative activists who hold strong influence over the identity of the nominee.

2. Mark your calendars: The much-hyped Iowa Straw Poll has been set for Saturday, Aug. 13, 2011. (The Fix is already making travel plans!)

The poll is the first major vote in the presidential nominating process, and though it is non-binding, it is regarded as a key test of grassroots strength in the first state on the presidential primary calendar.

Incoming Gov. Terry Branstad (R) has made clear that any Republican serious about running for president needs to play seriously in the straw vote.

The straw poll, which is hosted by the state GOP, will again take place in Ames on the campus of Iowa State University.

Adding to the importance of that particular weekend, the state GOP has also added a debate, which will be held the preceding Thursday -- Aug. 11 -- and will be co-hosted by Fox News Channel. The debate will also be held in Ames.

This week has already seen two debates scheduled in both New Hampshire and South Carolina. The Fox News debate is the first to be scheduled in Iowa.

3. Defeated Indiana Democratic Rep. Baron Hill is unlikely to make a run for governor in 2012, removing another potential high-profile contender from the running.

Hill told The Republic newspaper this week that there's a 99 percent chance he will not run to succeed term-limited Gov. Mitch Daniels (R).

"I'm not a wealthy man, so it's important to take care of my family," Hill said.

Still, Hill is not ruling out a future run for office and said that the office of governor remains appealing to him.

Retiring Sen. Evan Bayh (D), another potential contender, announced earlier this week that he will not run to succeed Daniels. Bayh's decision caused the non-partisan Cook Political Report to move the race to "likely Republican" from "Toss Up".

Speculation on the Democratic side will now settle on another defeated congressman -- Rep. Brad Ellsworth -- as well as others including Rep. Joe Donnelly, Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel and former state House Speaker John Gregg.

4. Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan is leaning against running for the Senate in 2012, although he isn't completely shutting the door to a bid.

Jordan told Real Clear Politics that he's "leaning heavily against" a bid against first-term Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), adding that he's "really just focused right now" on his new position as chairman of the Republican Study Committee.

Jordan had been considered one of the more likely challengers to Brown, who is thought to be among 2012's most vulnerable incumbent Democratic senators.

With Jordan a likely no-go, expect other Republicans to begin eyeing the race, although no clear frontrunner has emerged yet. GOP gains in Ohio in the 2010 election coupled with Brown's liberal voting record virtually ensure a serious challenge, however.

5. If it's Friday, it's time for a "Live Fix" chat -- an hour's worth of questions and answers about politics, tips on music, the latest on pop culture (Bieber!) and whatever else you want to talk about.

It all begins at 11 a.m. eastern time. Submit your questions in advance or just follow along in real time.

What have you got to lose?

By Chris Cillizza  | December 17, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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