WASHINGTON, June 8, 2011 -- Sarah Palin undoubtedly sucked up much of the political oxygen with her bus tour last week that sent the news media into a frenzy. But despite the publicity -- which directed some attention away from Mitt Romney's big announcement last Thursday -- some say there are few signs of actual concrete policy proposals coming from sideshow candidates like Palin who may be flirting with a presidential bid but haven't stated their plans.
Republican stars like Palin and businessman Donald Trump can rev up a crowd -- as evident by the media scrum surrounding their recent events -- but whether they can attract Republican voters is another question.
In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Tuesday, 41 percent of Republicans rule out voting for Palin and 39 percent see her as unqualified. Among the broader population, that figure gets even larger. Sixty-four percent of Americans say they definitely would not vote for Palin for president, a new high, while 63 percent describe her as unqualified for the job.
Despite the figures, the attention Palin gets from the media and the focus on Trump's flirtations earlier this year has many Republican strategists worried that voters are being distracted from serious candidates.
"In the short-term, they both burned a lot of oxygen in the room so to speak, and it makes it harder for others to get the press attention they would like to get and need," said Ron Kaufman, a Republican strategist who worked on George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan's campaigns.
Palin has taken heat from within her own party for not discussing actual policy proposals, instead getting caught up in debates like that involving Paul Revere.
Her supporters blame the press for not focusing on policy questions, citing her recent comments on energy subsidies, aid to Egypt and Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan as examples of her willingness to address important issues, if asked.
"To critics, publishing statements on Facebook seems less serious than releasing them from an office. But Palin has three million followers on the social media website. That's an important forum, especially when combined with Palin's books and television commentary," wrote Byron York, the chief political correspondent for conservative newspaper, the Washington Examiner.
But if Palin is indeed contemplating a presidential run, her policy discussions are much lighter in comparison to those of candidates like Mitt Romney, who have laid out visions -- albeit not very specific -- of their own budget and health care plans.
Republicans say it's still too early in the game for candidates and those who may be mulling a presidential bid to come out strongly on policy proposals and that the serious discussions likely won't begin until the debates.
It's not a new phenomenon for sideshow candidates to suck up attention. Think Howard Dean in 2004 -- his famous scream dominated the press for days -- or billionaire businessman Ross Perot in 1992, who led in the polls for much of the early months before the primaries.
The media scrum surrounding personalities like Palin and Trump can also be attributed to the general lack of enthusiasm for candidates currently in the field, but that will also disappear once the race gets more serious, experts say.
They point to Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election, who was criticized by many conservatives for not being an able communicator and to Bill Clinton in 1992, who was in many ways the Republicans' favorite Democratic candidate because they did not think he could win the presidential election.
Once the GOP field is clear, their influence won't matter as much, observers say.
"In the long-term, if they aren't running, it has no effect. Because in the end it's about who's running," Kaufman said. "This is no different than a lot of years when you have people saying we wish we had Superman running this time, or Superwoman as the case may be, or the pope or someone else running. In the end, it comes down to those people who want to run and are willing to get into the ring.
"This election, Republican party takes this cycle as serious as a heart attack. This could be the most important election since 1980, in the minds of a lot of Republicans," Kaufman said. "They are going to demand and want and expect to have serious candidates give serious answers to serious policy questions and that will happen."
The one game-changer that has some Republicans nervous is the tea party influence. The conservative movement helped propel many lawmakers to power in 2010, and is expected to have a significant influence in next year's race.
But the tea party is fragmented and its members haven't been hesitant to separate themselves from the Republican establishment when needed. Last week, Nevada-based Western Representation PAC said it will specifically target Romney in New Hampshire because the former Massachusetts governor isn't conservative enough to represent conservatives.
The announcement came on the heels of rumblings from another influential tea party umbrella group, FreedomWorks, whose members have said they don't like Romney's record and are concerned about his ability to generate the kind of grassroots enthusiasm from conservative groups that helped bring Republicans to power in the House last year.
Romney is the only GOP candidate in the field thus far who, in a general-election trial heat in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, runs evenly with President Obama among all Americans, and numerically outpoints him, 49-46 percent, among registered voters.