- Associated Press - Thursday, January 13, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — With her video defending herself against critics — in which she accused them of “blood libel” — former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin again showed she is weighing a presidential bid in unprecedented and even daring ways.

Mrs. Palin commands nationwide attention with her selective use of Facebook and Twitter, choosing provocative words when others testing the presidential waters prefer a lighter touch.

Some political pros say her tactics, which protect her from mainstream reporters and neutral audiences, are savvy and effective. Others say she will have to change if she hopes to win the crucial Iowa caucus or New Hampshire primary, let alone the 2012 general election. Many agree she’s a master at exploiting the campaign possibilities of fast-changing social media.

Mrs. Palin was bound to be drawn into the national debate that followed Saturday’s shooting rampage in Arizona, which killed six people and gravely wounded Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Last March, Mrs. Giffords noted in a TV interview that Mrs. Palin’s political committee had targeted her district, among others, with cross hairs. “There are consequences to that action,” Mrs. Giffords warned.

There is no evidence that the shooting suspect, Jared Lee Loughner, knew of Mrs. Palin’s actions. But Mrs. Giffords‘ remarks seemed eerily prophetic, and her husband and friends complained bitterly of the criticisms Republicans had heaped on her in the fall campaign.

Mrs. Palin issued a brief statement of condolences Saturday, when some news reports erroneously said Mrs. Giffords was dead. Mrs. Palin rebuffed countless media requests for further comment.

On Monday, conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck read an e-mail from Mrs. Palin saying, “Our children will not have peace if politicos just capitalize on this to succeed in portraying anyone as inciting terror and violence.”

On Wednesday, Mrs. Palin posted a video on her Facebook page in which she defended her actions and rebuked the news media and her critics.

“Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding,” she said, “journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn.”

The term “blood libel” raised eyebrows. While the phrase “has become part of the English parlance to refer to someone being falsely accused,” said Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, it is “fraught with pain in Jewish history.”

The term is associated with centuries-old claims that Jews killed Christian children for rituals. Some Jewish lawmakers felt Mrs. Palin’s comments were especially ill-advised because Mrs. Giffords is Jewish.

While bloggers speculated on whether Mrs. Palin knew the term’s history, political pros marveled at her continued ability to dive into national debates when, where and how she chooses.

“Nobody understands her base better than she does,” said Democratic consultant Erik Smith. He said Mrs. Palin has established “a communications mechanism that gets around the mainstream media.”

Republican strategist and commentator John Feehery said Mrs. Palin, the 2008 vice presidential nominee, “is now the dominant media presence on the Republican/tea party front. She can make news quicker and more effectively than any other conservative Republican.”

If she decides to run for president, Mr. Feehery said, “you would have to make her the favorite to win the nomination.” He added, however, that he doubts she could beat President Obama in November 2012.

That’s a possibility that worries many Republicans. Polls, all conducted before the Tucson shootings, show Mrs. Palin to be the most divisive of the potential GOP candidates. Many Americans are solidly for or against her, and relatively few are undecided.

“Will Palin run?” is almost a parlor game in political circles. Wednesday’s video did little to settle it. Some politicians questioned why a presidential hopeful would take chances with phrases like “blood libel” at a time when many elected officials are trying to lower the rhetorical temperature.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, another possible Republican presidential candidate, told the New York Times that it’s wrong to blame politicians for the Tucson tragedy. As for the use of cross hairs to target House districts, which Mrs. Palin’s video suggested is commonplace, Mr. Pawlenty said, “It’s not a device I would have chosen.”

Some saw Mrs. Palin’s video as a sign she’s eager to challenge Mr. Obama. She twice referred to America as “exceptional.” That’s a favorite word of conservatives, who say the president refuses to acknowledge the nation’s well-earned prominence.

Some Republicans doubt that Mrs. Palin and her small group of confidants spend a lot of time in deep, strategic thinking. She seems to follow her instincts, they say, which have helped propel her to remarkable amounts of fame and wealth — starting, of course, when Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, made her his running mate.

Many Democrats think Mrs. Palin is much better at making money and gossipy headlines than in assembling the kind of political operation that can carry her to the White House.

“Every time she pops off, she excites her narrowing band of partisans and probably makes herself more money, but she further alienates everyone else,” said Democratic consultant Jim Jordan, a veteran of presidential campaigns.

Historically, voters in Iowa and New Hampshire insist on questioning presidential hopefuls in small and frequent gatherings. That tradition might force Mrs. Palin to emerge from her cocoon. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, told New York Times editors Wednesday that MRs. Palin will “never be president” if she continually avoids unscripted and possibly adversarial exchanges with reporters and the public.

Some campaign veterans, however, think Mrs. Palin may be able to use rapidly expanding social media outlets to reach and inspire primary voters in novel ways.

“She’s a very savvy practitioner of new media,” Mr. Smith said. A candidate probably cannot win the Iowa and New Hampshire Republican contests entirely with Facebook, Twitter and similar outlets, he said, “but you can do an awful lot.”

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