Could This Be the Week Sarah Palin Gets in the Race?

It’s an exciting week in politics because this is the week Sarah Palin will tell the world her 2012 intentions. Or not.

At least that’s what she indicated to ABC News’ Jake Tapper at the Iowa State Fair last month, telling him September was “practically speaking … kind of a drop-dead timeline” when it comes to “jumping in the ring.”

With only five days left in the month, that means this week is the “drop-dead timeline,” right?

Not exactly. Since her early August trip to Iowa, she’s backed off on her self-imposed date, but as the days, debates and campaign events creep by and the state filing deadlines loom, the window may be closing.

Since marking the September “drop-dead timeline” at Ames, she’s wavered on a date in interviews on Fox News.  Two weeks ago, Greta Van Susteren asked Palin about a “drop-dead date” and the former Alaska governor demurred.

“I’m not going to let the media tell me or dictate when a drop-dead date should be. So I don’t have an answer for you on that one yet,” Palin said, adding that she’s “engaged internally with my family in discussions.”

“And I still have that same old dopey same old answer that I’m sure you guys are getting sick of hearing, and that is: I’m still thinking about it, praying about it, contemplating,” Palin told Susteren. “I’m sick of giving the same answer, believe me. I’m anxious to give an answer and get on with life one way or the other.”

Then last week, Palin told Sean Hannity that she’s “still considering the time factor,” but that “it is going to be an unconventional type of election process.”

When Hannity suggested to the former vice presidential nominee that November is the month she would have to announce because of legal filing deadlines, she conceded that “legally you do, because you have to start getting your ducks lined up to have your name on these ballots.”

So what does it all mean? Is she just stretching it out to stay in the debate without participating in the debates or is she going to jump in right before the filing deadlines at the end of next month and the beginning of November?

The answer: Only she knows. Not even her staff is aware of whether she will pull the trigger or not. According to a source with knowledge of the SarahPAC inner-circle, just as it was six months ago she has not made an announcement to her staff about her intentions.  As the days creep toward state filing deadlines, no new staff has been hired. Her core group of about six staffers runs the organization while a volunteer group completely independent of SarahPAC called Organize4Palin or O4P tries to lay the groundwork in states, most notably Iowa.

The same source told ABC News that “there is a developing consensus among former aides with knowledge of SarahPAC that she has decided not to run.”

Of course, they also acknowledge that, like her decision to resign as governor of Alaska in July 2009, the decision is hers to make alone with her husband, Todd, and that she could decide the day before the first filing deadline that she wants to throw her hat in the ring.

Saturday’s P5 or Presidential 5 Conference Straw Poll sponsored by the Florida GOP was a clear rejection of the two frontrunners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. Despite strong speeches by Herman Cain—who won the poll with 37 percent of the vote—the delegates were definitely looking for another candidate and that is sure to be another signal to Palin that she can still get in. Of course, Perry’s poor performance at Thursday night’s Fox News/Google debate is another sign that getting in to the race late isn’t easy.

Steve Bannon, who made the Palin documentary, “The Undefeated”  and remains close to Palin, thinks it’s a “big opportunity” because “the current list of candidates have failed to catch the imagination of either the conservative movement or the general electorate.”

“She’s making her own decision. It’s exactly what she has said 1,000 times. It’s her own decision and it’s in consultation with her family and through prayer, and that’s what I’m sure she’s spending a lot of time thinking about in Alaska,” Bannon told ABC News. “This is a life-altering decision.”

Just last week, SarahPAC sent out a fundraising appeal asking for donations because, as the message put it, Palin was “on the verge of making her decision of whether or not to run for office.”

That money cannot be used for a presidential campaign and, although the PAC will need funds, whether she runs or not it could be seen as a sign that she’s not going to get in the race and the organization is trying to pad the coffers before she lets the world know. Of course, if she does enter the race, money is likely to pour in as soon as she announced.

Despite deadlines Palin has made or backed away from in the past, the state filing deadlines are not negotiable if she wants to get on the ballot.

The early state calendar is still in flux, with Florida making it clear it wants to play a prominent role in the nominating process. Its primary date could be as early as Jan. 31.  

Chris Cate, the communications director at the Florida Department of State, said the date will be decided soon, but the state will be in line behind the traditional early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

However, no matter what primary date ends up getting chosen, Florida’s filing date for candidates is one of the first: Oct. 31. That’s the date it receives the candidate list from the state parties. Other states follow quickly after that in the first week of November.

These are the final dates Palin would be dealing with and the unsettled primary calendar doesn’t seem to have any effect.

The first primary state of New Hampshire traditionally has a filing period in the first three weeks of November, but with its primary date not set yet, Secretary of State Bill Gardiner has the power to move that date ahead or even later.

Other states require nominating petitions that would require teams in those states to get petition signatures, another filing step the organization would have to complete if Palin were to jump in the race.

At least in the first caucus state of Iowa, Palin has help outside of the network of grassroots volunteers. A longtime GOP fundraiser in the state who has become a friend of the Palins, Becky Beach is ready to start raising money if Palin pulls the trigger, but even she has no idea if she will get in the race.

“I don’t know if she will or she won’t run, but if she does decide to do it I’ve already had a state senator and a donor with another campaign say if she were to get in they would jump to her,” Beach said.

Becky added that she doesn’t see a deadline ahead of the legal deadlines that Palin needs to announce.

“I know she and Todd will decide what’ s best for them and their family,” Beach said. “If they would like me to be helpful to them I would be happy to.”

Beach added: “She’s a force in her own right. If she runs for president, that’s one thing, but if she doesn’t, she won’t just be in Wasilla or Arizona. She’ll be advocating positions and views and love of country in a different way. She will definitely be doing something.”

One thing sure to encourage Palin towards a yes decision is the McClatchy-Marist poll released last week that put her just five points behind President  Obama, with a 49 percent to 44 percent spread in a potential head-to-head contest. That same survey of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents also reported that 72 percent of Republicans don’t want Palin to get in the race.

Peter Singleton, who heads up the volunteer group in Iowa, has spent almost a year in the state campaigning for Palin full time – unbelievably without being told to do so by Palin or SarahPAC. He left his home in California and his job as an attorney to attend county meetings and try to convince caucus goers that Palin is the person for the job, although she hasn’t said whether she thinks she’s the person for the job.

“We don’t care at all when she announces,” Singleton said. “I know some people care, but the people doing what I’m doing, the people doing this pretty intensely, we don’t care. What we care about is why she runs. How she would run.”

He said state activists have been telling him for months that Palin needs to get in the race and meet with them, but he added members of that group are not going to be the people who decide the election. Instead it will be the average GOP caucus-goers in the state.

“Out in the counties, the Republican electorate is wide open,” Singleton said, adding that the caucus-goers in counties and towns outside of the Iowa cities are still undecided. “I’m sure of this.”

Singleton is convinced the answer will be “yes” from Palin, but insisted that despite sacrificing almost a year of his life in the Hawkeye State he will be fine if she says she’s not in.

“I’ll be disappointed because I think she’s the best candidate, but disappointed in her, no absolutely not. She’s her own person and I have a lot of respect for her,” Singleton said.

He added that he thinks a late entry will help Palin because she’s been “leading” by weighing in on different issues through her speeches and appearances on Fox News.

“I’d rather be advocating for someone who has been leading than for someone who has just been running for presidency the last few years and absent from the fray,” Singleton said.