Where Is Sarah Palin?
ABC News' Shushannah Walshe and Matt Negrin report:
Last May, a cult-like throng of journalists chased Sarah Palin and her bus along the East Coast, eager that she'd drop the slightest of hints that would answer an almost fanatical question: Was she jumping into the GOP primary?
This weekend she gave a speech in front of hundreds of supporters, revving them up with some of her favorite lines - blasting both President Obama and "crony capitalism" and calling the "bitter clingers" to action. She even unveiled this new line to huge cheers:
"We're little tea pots, and we're getting steamed up because Obama is tipping us over, pouring us out and draining the entrepreneurial spirit from us, that which grew America into the most exceptional nation ever known," she said at a tea party event for wounded soldiers in Belleville, Mich., sponsored by the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity.
Yesteryear's Republican nominee for VP is still a folksy fireball, but gone is the dissection of every word she says, analysis of everything she espouses on Fox News or rabid coverage of her every move, even big speeches like the one in Michigan. She still does those things, of course - Thursday night she told Greta van Susteren that Condoleezza Rice would be a "wonderful" running mate - but the constant headlines of her name before a colon have vanished.
She was once the most visible spokeswoman for the conservative cause, and now her reality star daughter Bristol gets almost more attention. Not that the elder Palin isn't still good at it; she riles up a crowd in a way no one on the GOP side can. So why the fading headlines?
SarahPAC is still a secretive organization, but those willing to lift the veil a bit say she's actively taking a step back and not much is going on inside. What's not clear is if they are gearing up for attack or if she will stay in the background.
Even her chief of staff has left, ABC News has learned. Michael Glassner was hired last February and it set off a flurry of early will-she-won't-she run headlines. He recently left SarahPAC because there just wasn't enough for him to do, according to several sources knowledgeable of the inner workings of the organization.
They are still fundraising, though. According to their Federal Election Commission filing Friday they raised $780,000 over the past three months. That's up from only $388,000 they raised in the first three months of the year.
Despite the slower schedule, she is focused on congressional candidates as opposed as to the top office. She went after Obama in Michigan ("Why would anybody want to fundamentally transform what is so good and free and strong about America?" she said, according to the Detroit News), but she isn't firing up the crowd for the presumptive GOP nominee, a visible distinction.
Palin never officially endorsed Mitt Romney, and in her Fox News appearances and Facebook posts, she prefers to slam Obama rather than praise his challenger.
Down-ballot candidates still clamor for her backing, though, and she still carries influence - look at Deb Fischer's surprise win for the GOP Senate nomination in Nebraska (she doesn't g et all of the credit, of course) as well as Richard Mourdock in Indiana and even Ted Cruz, in Texas, who forced Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst into a runoff election later this month. And just last week she came out for Florida Rep. Sandy Adams in her tight primary battle against fellow GOP Rep. John Mica.
Palin's next steps are a bit of a mystery, but why isn't she hitting the road with Romney, jazzing up the so-called base that the former Massachusetts governor has struggled so hard to win over?
"I think it would be essential for victory in the fall for Gov. Palin to be involved in galvanizing turnout in key battleground states," said Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of the right-wing Breitbart News who is also Palin's friend. "In order to win, we need the same type of surge in the fall of 2010 among tea party and grassroots organizations, working-class people - and Gov. Palin talks to that audience better than anybody else today. … There is no scenario for victory in November in the battleground states that is not directly tied to turnout. Governor Palin is the key that picks that lock."
Palin has yet to make an appearance on the road to the White House being traveled by Romney. As we approach Romney's announcement of his own running mate, four years after Palin was plucked from the frontier, the headlines about the pride of Wasilla are almost more about her family's reality shows than her comments or aspirations. Her daughter, Bristol, stars in "Life's a Tripp" on Lifetime, and her dog-sledding husband, Todd, is set to be a celeb himself, competing in a show next month on NBC called "Stars Earn Stripes."
And what about the Republican National Convention next month - the place she made such a splash just four years ago - there's no sign that she will have a speaking role, but we do know her political action committee will be there, if not on site.
On FEC forms filed in April, SarahPAC spent $4,500 to reserve space at the Channelside Bay Plaza in Tampa for the event. It's a five-minute walk from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where the actual convention will be, and it's easily accessible to all the big GOP leaders and delegates, as well as the thousands of journalists who will descend on Florida.
Grover Norquist, the anti-tax hawk, said the Romney campaign would be wise to build a strong relationship with Palin just as it has done with Ron Paul, the libertarian candidate who marshals a loyal following in the GOP. But with Palin, formalities might matter - Romney shouldn't expect Palin to beg for a speaking slot at the convention, he said.
"Some people need to be invited. Some people need to be told, 'We want you,' " Norquist said. "People like to be asked."
Norquist added: "There's still this sense that people have - 'I liked her, I trusted her, I had this connection with her. The media that doesn't like her would never have lunch with me anyway. We are two peas in a pod.' "
And in a hint as to how Palin is thinking about Romney's campaign and what advice she would give, Bannon said he believes she would agree with a Romney surrogate who hasn't always been so kind to Palin.
"I think she would agree with John Sununu on one vital topic: the Romney campaign has to start talking in 'simple declarative sentences,'" Bannon said, referring to advice the tough talking former New Hampshire governor and Romney surrogate gave the campaign on CNN earlier this month.