Can Sarah Palin shake up the GOP?

A guest column with the above title by Steffan Schmidt appears in today’s Iowa State Daily.   Schmidt, a professor of political science at Iowa State University, concludes that she can shake it up big time if she so chooses:

“Palin is also first or tied for the top spot in both groups when it comes to her connection to people’s problems. Above all, it is this “connection factor” that would allow Palin to quickly transform the race, were she to jump in,” according to the Washington Post.

The news media have largely neglected Palin because she has not bought space and asked to be on the Iowa (Ames) GOP Straw Poll in August. She has also not officially declared that she will run for President. However, she has been touring the country, giving major interviews to magazines, and hoarding a very nice stack of cash from her various enterprises, which  include books, TV specials, speeches and her work for Fox.

In Newsweek, Peter J. Boyer features her in a very flattering article that was published July 18. The cover of the magazine reads “I can win” and features a posed and very glamorous-looking Palin with the headline, “Sarah Palin on why she’s confident — and how she’ll decide whether to run in 2012.”

Schmidt also provides some on-the-ground, albeit anecdotal, evidence to buttress his contention:

When I talked to GOP contacts and friends, the opinion was pretty consistently this. Palin is a big “silent” factor in the 2011 Iowa events (debates and Ames straw poll) and will lurk in the background until caucus night is over in 2012. She may even skip the caucuses and decide to jump in at the last moment. However, in primaries there are ballot printing and candidate filing deadlines, so she cannot wait too long.

One acquaintance, a lifelong Republican, said, “Steffen, she’s like the severe storms center hurricane forecast for the season. When they say this year will be an exceptionally active hurricane season, everyone from the Gulf States to Maine is jumpy, looking over their shoulder, getting plywood ready to board up, getting hurricane supplies, arranging to have their boat hauled out should a big one hit. All of the Republican candidates right now are looking over their shoulder to see if Hurricane Sarah might strike!”

Schmidt also sees an advantage in Governor Palin’s decision to delay an announcement while many of the lesser candidates who have already announced snipe at each other and waste campaign resources on a meaningless straw poll in an attempt to get noticed while the vast majority of the electorate isn’t yet paying attention:

Being an unknown and unpredictable political force for 2012 has significant advantages. If nothing else, Palin can emerge from the early “mutual bashing events” such as early debates and the Ames Straw Poll un-bloodied.

Palin can, in other words, hover above all of this and swoop down on the GOP adversaries like the bald eagle I saw from the helm of my sailboat, talons out front, snatching a hapless Merganser duck at the tip of Pt. Bolin, right by the U.S. Navy torpedo-testing facility coming into Liberty Bay, Wash. I’m sure the other GOP candidates will scatter just like the fortunate ducks that were in the water but escaped the mighty raptor!

With Michelle Bachmann misspeaking so often, and now with the revelation that she suffers from severe migraines and is often heavily medicated, her appeal may wane a bit. And, with the depth of gut-feeling enthusiasm for the other GOP contenders pretty shallow in all the polls I’ve seen, we underestimate the Palin factor at our own risk.

Read the rest of Schmidt’s piece here.


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