Updated 5: 34 p.m. Eastern Time
Much of Washington has written off former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin as a potential 2012 GOP presidential candidate. But quietly, Palin may be laying the groundwork for a late entry into the race.
The evidence? Start with the fact that Palin may well have left her home state, from which travel to the lower 48 is not easy. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Palin has purchased a $1.7 million home in a secluded neighborhood in Scottsdale, Arizona; as Ben Smith notes, a local Fox affiliate appears to have footage of Palin and her husband Todd on the recently-sold property.
Arizona, of course, is the home of former Palin running mate Sen. John McCain; it's also where her daughter Bristol recently bought a home. Palin would have a much easier time traveling to key early voting states if she bases her campaign in Arizona as opposed to Alaska; it would also put her and her advisers on a schedule much closer to that of national reporters, making it far easier for them to respond quickly to news stories and requests.
Then there's the fact that a
Palin has also rehired two aides who help with travel and public events and "is expected to resume a schedule of public events soon -- perhaps as early as this weekend," according to the New York Times.
Palin said last week that she has the "" for a presidential run, though she is concerned about "the huge amount of scrutiny and the sacrifices that have to be made on my children's part in order to see their momma run for president." The Fox News contributor is, along with Mitt Romney, .
But only 18 percent of voters in last week's Gallup poll chose Palin as their preferred nominee, and serious questions remain about her electability. CBS News polling in October, while nearly half view her unfavorably. It's not just Democrats who aren't fans: Only 44 percent of Republicans said in the October poll that they view Palin favorably, suggesting she could face an uphill battle to win her party's nomination.
Palin has not been laying the traditional groundwork for a campaign in the same way that Romney and Tim Pawlenty have, and she lacks staffers or fundraisers in the key early states. But that's less of a problem for her than it would be for other candidates because of her massive name recognition. And Palin's popularity with social conservatives - who make up more than half the electorate in Iowa - could give her a victory in the first state in the voting calendar, and with it a massive shot of momentum.
No matter how it plays out, one thing is for sure: A Palin entry into the field would upend the nominating contest, and potentially alter the identity of the eventual nominee - even if Palin isn't it.