Sarah Palin Can Excite a Crowd, but Can She Win a Presidential Race?

May 30, 2011 12:10pm

Analysis by ABC News’ Amy Walter: The media scrum surrounding Sarah Palin – or at least devoted to trying to figure out just where she’s going — shows just what kind of impact she’d have on the race.

She can single-handedly suck up almost all the political oxygen in the atmosphere. That makes it hard for lesser-known, but more politically viable contenders like former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to get attention. Moreover, it takes attention away from the topic Republican strategists would like to keep their party focused on: beating President Obama. 

Even so, there’s considerable evidence that despite her ability to get media attention, she garners only a fraction of that interest from voters in her own party.

The most recent Gallup survey found that while she has almost universal name recognition among Republican voters, her approval rating is just 48 percent. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the nominal frontrunner in this still-fluid primary, has a 56 percent approval rating.

Moreover, those who say they do like her don’t feel all that strongly about it.  Instead, it’s two dark-horse candidates, former Godfather’s pizza CEO Herman Cain and Rep. Michele Bachmann, who “generate the strongest positive reactions” in the Gallup polling.

This also suggests that Palin may not be able to simply big-foot the less-well known Bachmann. This is especially relevant in a place like Iowa where the Caucus system rewards the candidate with the most committed followers. As Gallup writes, “the impact of candidates who have passionate followers is potentially most evident in primary elections, where, as was learned in 2010, turnout among highly motivated Republican voters can make a significant difference.”

Watch Palin speak to reporters after visiting the National Archives today:


Palin isn’t the only potential candidate whose chances may be slim. Just because the field is wide-open doesn’t mean that anyone can win the nomination.

Take, for example, the latest musings by New York Republicans George Pataki and Rudy Giuliani. In 2008, Giuliani proved to be a skilled fundraiser but also a pretty weak candidate.

Pataki flirted with a presidential run in 2008 and Senate in 2010, but ultimately chose not to run for either office.  Not only does he have a proven reluctance to pull the trigger, but even his attempts at raising his profile have ended badly. In early 2008, it was discovered that the PACs Pataki had set up to help lay the groundwork for a presidential run were spending funds on non-political items like tickets to Broadway shows.

More important, both Pataki and Giuliani are considered moderates who have a record on abortion that is going to be tough for most of the Republican electorate to swallow. Plus, wealthy former ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, is already working to fill the niche of the centrist Republican. Whether it’s a run for president or Congress, moderate Republicans have a terrible track record at winning primary contests. 

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has Tea Party appeal and conservative street cred. Still, there isn’t a clamoring for a Perry run. A recent CNN poll found that just 40 percent of Republican voters wanted to see him run, while 50 percent said they didn’t want him to run. This doesn’t mean he can’t run or be successful, but it does mean that he has to find a way to convince GOP voters that he’s a solid alternative to the current crowd of contenders. And he’s got to get an operation up and running in key states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina where they really don’t know anything about him.

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