- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2011

With many conservatives dissatisfied with the GOP field of White House hopefuls, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is taking steps - including a bus tour - that appear to be setting her up for a presidential bid.

Mrs. Palin announced Thursday that she will embark from Washington this weekend on a weeks-long tour through the Northeast, where she will visit the some of the nation’s historic sites aboard a bus emblazoned with the words: “One Nation Under God, Indivisible, With Liberty & Justice For All.”

“We’ll celebrate the good things that bring Americans together; those things that will give us the needed strength to meet the heady challenges ahead. I’ve said many times that America doesn’t need a ‘fundamental transformation,’ instead we need a restoration of all that is good and strong and free in America,” she said in a post on her political action committee website.

The tour reportedly will take her back to New Hampshire for the first time since she was the vice presidential nominee on the Republican Party’s ticket in 2008.

<t-8>The announcement follows a new Gallup new poll showing Mrs. Palin running second in the 2012 presidential sweepstakes, sandwiched between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. It also follows news that Mrs. Palin was purchasing a home in Arizona, an easier location than Alaska from which to launch a campaign.

She also has rehired key aides and plans to release a two-hour documentary that charts her rise from mother to political lightning rod. It could be shown next month in Iowa, where the state’s caucuses begin the primary election season.

Taken together, the moves have sparked increasing speculation that Mrs. Palin may launch a campaign for president in 2012 - a scenario that few Washington insiders seem to have envisioned, but a likelihood that’s picked up speed as the Republican field narrows.

“She is very popular with the Republican base and would fit within the top tier of candidates,” said Ron Bonjean, a GOP political strategist.

However, Fox News issued a statement Thursday night saying Mrs. Palin would continue as a paid commentator, a sign that the network doesn’t think a presidential run is likely. The network had leaned heavily on Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee — all former Republican officeholders who had paid pundit positions with Fox — to clarify their intentions to run or not run.

Mrs. Palin splashed onto the national political scene with her folksy brand of politics and fiery anti-Washington rhetoric in 2008 when Sen. John McCain of Arizona tapped the little-known governor as his running mate.

But after President Obama’s victory, her political career and personal life have seen their ups and downs.Dogged by a maelstrom of criticism, ethics probes and legal bills, she abandoned her governor’s post just 18 months into her first term.

Since then, Mrs. Palin released a memoir, “Going Rogue: An American Life,” and became an early leader of the tea party movement. She also has enjoyed a lucrative speaking career, becoming one the biggest Republican draws.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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