(Updates with October visit by Palin to South Korea in 16th paragraph.)
Sept. 1 (Bloomberg) -- For Republicans still in search of the perfect someone to defeat President Barack Obama in 2012, it’s almost last call and all eyes on are Sarah Palin.
The first nomination balloting is five months away and assembling the national political organization needed for a presidential campaign typically takes months of fundraising, planning and execution.
Three candidate debates are also set for September, as party activists in early voting states begin to focus more closely on the contest after Labor Day.
That narrows potential latecomers to people with a big name, lots of money, or both. Palin, the party’s 2008 vice presidential nominee, is about the only remaining undecided, major party figure who fits that criteria.
“Regardless of what the public may think of Obama right now, he created a new candidate: the charismatic rock star,” said Steve Roberts, a former Republican National Committee member and state party chairman in Iowa. “Palin was the only Republican to reach that height.”
The Republican candidates in the race today don’t quite have the star power Obama generated, he said.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, who leapt to the top of the polls, “at the moment, comes closest,” Roberts said, while former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is “long on experience and mixed on being a star.” Roberts added: “Perry’s problem is that some of his present and past views may be a little rugged for the middle-of-the-road and independent folks, hence, the continued search for Mr. or Ms. Wonderful.”
Keep Opponents Guessing
Palin is keeping her options open and her supporters -- and detractors -- guessing.
“To be fair to those supporters and potential supporters, who are waiting on figuring out what the set field will be, I want to be fair to them and make sure that they don’t feel like they are just hanging on to something that’s not going to happen,” Palin, 47, said at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 12.
Asked if she would announce her intentions before the end of September, as she had previously indicated, Palin said yes. “That’s still a possibility for a timetable, yes, definitely,” she said.
The former Alaska governor will appear at Labor Day weekend events in Iowa and New Hampshire, the two states that will start the nomination process early next year.
Palin’s appearance at a Tea Party rally south of Des Moines was in question for part of yesterday amid media reports that she had put the speech on hold after an invitation to the event was also extended to failed U.S. Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell of Delaware. The event’s organizers uninvited O’Donnell and Palin was back on the schedule later in the day.
Craig Robinson, editor of the Iowa Republican website and a former state party political director, said the confusion over Palin’s attendance hurts her brand.
“All of this drama enforces all of her negatives,” he said.
Palin faces approaching state filing deadlines for presidential candidates, including one on Nov. 1 for the primary in South Carolina. The southern state is scheduled to follow Iowa and New Hampshire in the nomination voting next year.
South Korea Visit
In a move that could be viewed as a distraction to a potential presidential campaign, or a way to boost her foreign policy background, Palin plans to visit South Korea in mid- October to attend the World Knowledge Forum, according to the Maeil Business Newspaper.
Palin traveled to Israel in March, when her political action committee spent about $5,000 for her security, cars and drivers there. That same month she traveled to India, where she spoke to business leaders, lobbyists and others.
An Associated Press-GfK poll released last week showed two- thirds of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are pleased with the party’s field, compared with just half in June.
The still restive nature of the Republican search comes as Obama, 50, appears politically vulnerable amid 9.1 percent unemployment and approval ratings near lows of his presidency.
Romney has struggled to excite Republicans, while questions have arisen about whether Perry, Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota or Representative Ron Paul of Texas have broad enough appeal for a general election.
“There are always some Republican establishment folks who want somebody else,” said Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committee member and nephew of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. “But reality is reality. It’s almost impossible. If someone can come up with $40 million to spend early next year on those first few caucuses and primaries, then maybe they can play, but they’d still have to do a lot of retail politics.”
Candidates typically spend months attending a mix of large and small fundraising events early in a pre-presidential election year. The lesser known, the more time he or she must commit, because major donors often won’t give to a candidate they haven’t been able to size up personally.
After Labor Day, finding time for fundraising becomes more challenging because of the growing demands of retail politicking in the early voting states. Palin, unlike other potential candidates, could overcome that hurdle by raising large amounts of money through leveraging her celebrity status.
Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have been encouraged to join the contest, and both have denied any interest. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2008, is still considering whether he will get in.
“The people that aren’t in the race always look better, but the people who are in are strong contenders,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who advised former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty before his exit from the contest on Aug. 14. “We are past the point of that chatter being relevant. The Republican nominee will be one of the people in the race, with the possible exception of one or two outsiders.”
Palin is at the top of the list of those exceptions.
“She has such a unique position that even if she waits beyond September, she commands so much attention and support, she could create her own timeline,” Conant said.
Opposition to Palin
Palin would face a large bloc of voters already opposed to her. A poll released Aug. 25 by the Pew Research Center found 41 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters say there is no chance they would vote for Palin.
Perry, 61, who formally announced his candidacy Aug. 13, led the field of Republican candidates in a nationwide Gallup poll released last week that showed him with support from 29 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. The poll was taken Aug. 17-21 and had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
Among other candidates now in the race, Gallup showed Romney at 17 percent, followed by Paul at 13 percent. Bachmann, who won the Aug. 13 Iowa Straw Poll of Republican activists, was at 10 percent in the poll.
In Iowa, Perry has matched the level of support enjoyed by Bachmann and Romney, according to a poll conducted Aug. 19-21 by Public Policy Polling, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based company associated with Democrats that does polls nationwide. The poll, with a margin of error of 5.5 percentage points, showed Perry, Romney and Bachmann in a statistical tie, with support ranging from 18 percent to 22 percent.
--Editors: Jeanne Cummings, Jodi Schneider
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