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Something to ponder for 2012: Sarah Palin's ahead of where Obama was 30 months before his nomination

February 17, 2010 |  2:32 am


A recent Washington Post/ABC News Poll found that 30 months out from the 2012 party presidential nominations, only 71% of Americans believe that Sarah Palin is not qualified to be president.

This compares with someone named Barack Obama. At the same point in his then unannounced campaign,  0% thought he was qualified for the Oval Office. That's because he wasn't even on the polling lists' radar then.

The Illinois senator didn't show up on the polling charts until 24 months before the 2008 elections, just two months before his official announcement in Springfield, Ill. And even then he trailed the presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton, 29-22, as the choice for the Democratic presidential nomination.

To illustrate how accurate such polls were in those medieval days of this century, someone named Al Gore was the third choice among Democrats then, followed closely by -- don't laugh now -- John Edwards.

The same predictive accuracy may well apply to Tuesday's CNN/Public Opinion Poll showing....

...that on only his 392d day in office, a majority of Americans (52%) have already decided to deny Obama a second term in office about 980 days or so from now.

All of which is vivid proof of how quickly the modern American presidential selection process and landscape is changing, making traditional patterns of political prediction as reliable as Prius brakes.

For starters, the last three presidents all won the nation's top political office on their first try for the Oval Office, a break from usual U.S. political tradition when voters seemed to want candidates to serve years in another office or executive position to come to know their political personalities before entrusting them with their highest office.

But now a combinRepublican Sarah Palin's Book Coveration of new media, wildfire grassroots dissatisfaction with Washington politics, a party leadership vacuum bequeathed to Republicans by George W. Bush and his elderly VP both walking out the door into wealthy retirement and John McCain's unsurprising defeat left the GOP field empty of regulars.

And inviting for a posse of newcomers and old-comers newly-wrapped.

One candidacy giveaway: new books. Palin's came out last fall. Mitt Romney's next month. And in April, Fred Thompson's. (We're not counting Karl Rove's, Dick Cheney's or Bush's.)

Palin also has other apparent qualifiers for the GOP 2012 race: she is not of Washington and doesn't currently hold an elective office, having resigned the Alaska governor's job last summer.

A surprise move that drew considerable criticism at the time, since largely overlooked, her lucrative unemployment provides ample time now for priceless regular media exposure on Fox News and to rouse her base, as she did 11 days ago at the National Tea Party Convention, the next day in Texas and last Sunday to cheering thousands at NASCAR's Daytona 500.

What base does anyone see coalescing around other potential GOP competitors?

While vocal Palin-haters reveled in her awful recent national poll numbers about presidential qualifications, they missed a fact: if she decides to run for anything, the first goal is to become the GOP nominee. And the voters Palin needs to convince about that are state-by-state Republicans, 69% of whom still see her favorably.

Anyone who's talked to her GOP supporters in recent weeks or watched her work a crowd comes away with a powerful sense of the Palin fervor. The more she's derided by others or in the media, the more convinced her fans are that she is like them -- a regular person derided by so-called elites, often unfairly. Translating such energy ultimately into votes is the key.

And by an impressive coincidence two political experts with wise eyes and decades of experience studying and observing American politics and its transient characters have recently tapped out favorable reviews of this self-defined political rogue who unexpectedly overthrew the entrenched GOP establishment in Alaska when none of the regulars gave her a chance.

Republican Sarah Palin at the Daytona 500 race 2-14-10

The veteran Jules Whitcover of the Baltimore Sun wrote a column this week headlined: "Sarah Palin as GOP nominee in 2012? Don't laugh it off."

"Sarah Palin may come off as a bit ditzy," he said, "but stupid she is not."

Whitcover noted that polls show the highest voter anger or dissatisfaction with the federal government in a decade (about two-thirds).

Then, he recalled another political outsider who followed a one-term Democrat, Ronald Reagan, once also derided as a mere entertainer, who "30 years ago successfully rode a similar dissatisfaction with Washington by promising to 'clean out the swamp' there."

And no less a respected authority than David Broder of the Washington Post last week praised Palin's "pitch-perfect populism" in recent speeches and "the skill with which she drew a self-portrait that fit not just the wishes of the immediate audience but the mood of a significant slice of the broader electorate."

Broder said populism doesn't always win, but he was particularly impressed by Palin's goals:

First and foremost, I want to be a good mom, and I want to raise happy, healthy, independent children. And I want them to be good citizens of this great country.

And then I do want to be a voice for some common-sense solutions. I'm never going to pretend like I know more than the next person. I'm not going to pretend to be an elitist. In fact, I'm going to fight the elitist, because for too often and for too long now, I think the elitists have tried to make people like me and people in the heartland of America feel like we just don't get it, and big government's just going to have to take care of us.

I want to speak up for the American people and say: 'No, we really do have some good common-sense solutions.' I can be a messenger for that.

Finally, the veteran Washington watcher warned against deriding the unorthodox Palin. "The lady is good," he said.

We'll see exactly how good she is in coming months. What is certain right now is that as good as Obama was at ultimately reaping $750 million and winning the White House, no one was paying this kind of attention -- positive or negative -- to him this far ahead of his 2008 nomination or election.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photos: Gary W. Green / Orlando Sentinel