- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 15, 2009

This time, she makes her public entrance as the headliner, not the pretty and vivacious warm-up act that brought bounce and backlash to the 2008 McCain presidential campaign.

As Sarah Palin re-emerges onto the national stage with a new book and a tour to promote it, the polarizing one-time vice presidential candidate gets to sell her story her way. Even the book’s title, “Going Rogue,” suggests that after delivering messages under the careful watch of Republican handlers a year ago, she’s now calling her own shots as she travels the nation to set up what some say is a certain run for the White House in 2012.

Even as some on the left attack her credibility, others say that to dismiss her as a political flash in the pan would be folly. No other veep candidate in recent decades, they say, has generated such ongoing fascination.

“Sarah Palin may be the one rock star that the Republican Party has for the moment,” says Larry Jacobs, the director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota. He cites the intense demand for her at national fundraising events as “a symbol of her potency and potential as a presidential candidate.”

While family foibles have thrust her into the nasty gossipy crosshairs, her embrace by the celebrity magazine set hasn’t been all negative, he says.

“I think Sarah Palin is kind of a boundary-crosser,” Mr. Jacobs says. “She has one hand in the world of politics and the other on the front pages of entertainment and variety magazines. And frankly, it’s worked for her politically. She’s been able to widen her message, and it’s given her visibility that is extraordinary.”

On Monday, Mrs. Palin’s taped interview with talk-show and public-consciousness queen Oprah Winfrey will air, giving viewers a showbiz insight into her current mind-set. In promotional tapes released in advance of the show, Mrs. Palin opens up about her ill-fated interview with Katie Couric — she knew it was bad — and also welcomes prodigal near-son-in-law Levi Johnston to her Thanksgiving table.

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Ms. Winfrey, who supported President Obama during the 2008 election, said in promos for the segment that Mrs. Palin was candid and that no topic was off-limits, even as some detractors wondered if the Alaska hockey mom wasn’t opening herself up to further and rude dissection by taking her talk into Ms. Winfrey’s liberal forum.

Early reviews say it was not “gotcha” TV.

“We talked about Bristol, the pregnancy. We talked about Trig, her baby. We talked about Levi Johnston. We talked about her marriage. We talked about everything; there’s nothing that we didn’t talk about,” Ms. Winfrey said in a clip posted on YouTube earlier this week.

“Lots of people didn’t want me to have her on, lots of people did. Lots of her supporters didn’t think that she should come here, but she did,” the chat-show diva said by way of endorsing Mrs. Palin’s openness.

Just as the Oprah appearance kick-starts her book tour, which officially opens in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Tuesday, Mrs. Palin faces continued backlash from Mr. Johnston, who recently said he will seek joint custody of his child with Bristol and who is making money on his own entertainment appearances — including posing nude for Playgirl. Mr. Johnston has told TV entertainment tabloids that he is taking showbiz gigs — he wants a career in acting — as a way to provide for his infant son and show that he is a responsible parent.

But a Playgirl spokesman told Politico earlier this week that the pictorial was Mr. Johnston’s way of getting back at the Palins for what he says is the family’s poor treatment of him.

Not that the baby-daddy woes should matter, some supporters say.

“Levi Johnston is a non-issue,” says GOP political strategist Cheri Jacobus, who dismisses him as a blip on the powerful Palin radar.

“The people who pay attention to what he says and take it to heart are not people who would ever vote for Sarah Palin in any instance,” Ms. Jacobus said. “Johnston is an embarrassment being egged on by the mainstream media and other Palin detractors.”

Even as polls have shown top support for past GOP contenders such as Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, Mrs. Palin remains the marquee figure in her party as she heads out across the nation to launch her book and reconnect with the party faithful.

“I think her strategy is strong. If she wants to get the real story out, her story, and tell America ‘this is who I am,’ a book is a fresh way to do it,” said Marsa Truscott, a former Michigan political consultant who has followed Mrs. Palin’s emerging political career and is eager to read her book. “I think America is craving a nonscripted, non-Inside-the-Beltway candidate,” she said. “I think if Sarah allows herself to be Sarah, she’ll be successful.”

Within the conservative movement, Mrs. Palin, who resigned her post as governor earlier this year to ponder her future options, offers a rallying cry for the tea-party crowd disenchanted by the Obama administration, disconnected from Washington and looking for a leader who offers plain talk and fiscal responsibility amid the ongoing financial crisis.

But while she’s popular with the grass-roots base of the GOP, she faces a challenge in drawing in the intellectual William F. Buckley wing of the party, positioning herself as a serious and thoughtful candidate along with one who can obviously energize the masses.

David Keene, who heads the American Conservative Union, praises her potential.

“Sarah Palin is obviously a superstar in the conservative movement,” he said. “She has had tremendous impact on health care, [the recent special congressional election in upstate New York] and other issues. The success of her book can only enhance her role in the movement.”

Wayne Garcia, a former Florida political consultant and pundit who now teaches at the University of Florida, says Mrs. Palin faces a difficult task in getting those outside her inner fan club to take her seriously. A book is a legitimate way to steer her message, but he doesn’t think it will gain her traction, even as she takes her show on the road, visiting small cities by bus for a tour of the heartland.

“It’s highly unlikely that she’ll tell a story in that book that will make voters who are not inclined to support her, who may be in the middle of the political spectrum,” Mr. Garcia said. “I can’t imagine her telling a story that people are going to go, ‘Wow, I really misunderstood Sarah Palin, what she’s about, and I like her.’”

But a book, Ms. Jacobus says, is a good way to begin carving out her own, independent message, to showcase herself as a leader who understands the needs of ordinary Americans.

“It provides her the opportunity to clear up misconceptions and set the record straight on any number of issues and allow America to get to know the self-made woman who took on the establishment in Alaska with no political family name or family money behind her, rather than the woman who Republican operatives in Washington tried to mold into what they thought the country believed a female on a national ticket should be,” she said.

The tabloiders, however, are lying in wait and looking to make moose meat of her political ambitions.

“The sharks out there sense blood in the water with her, and I think there are plenty of media sharks who are standing ready to put the nails in Sarah’s political coffin,” Mr. Garcia says.

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