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Is Sarah Palin Preparing for a 2012 Run?

In this June 29, 2010 file photo, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks to the crowd at the P.U.R.E. Ministries in Duluth, Ga. Palin has put her money where her mouth is, contributing at least $87,500 to candidates she's endorsed in the last few months. AP

According to a financial report filed last night, Sarah Palin's political action committee, SarahPAC, raised $866,000 in the second quarter of this year - a serious haul that has prompted speculation that the former Alaska governor is laying the groundwork for a presidential run.

It's not just how much Palin's PAC raised, but how the money is being spent: $210,000 in the three-month period (April through June) on consulting, $87,500 on candidate contributions, and a total of $742,000 overall, much of it going to putting together support lists and direct-mail and other fundraising outreach.

A few months ago, Palin was starting to be seen as a less-than-serious prospective 2012 candidate: She seemed primarily focused on her burgeoning media career and was treated by participants at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in April as more a rock-star rallying point than a potential standard-bearer.

But Palin has shown herself to be committed to remaining engaged in politics, albeit through often-untraditional means: She has been a regular and engaging presence on Facebook and Twitter, where, in a typically-unrestrained post, she wrote this yesterday: "LasVegas RJ editorial recaps Obama lecture 2 Runnin' Rebs: he's got most disconnected, backasswards plan ever imposed on the country we love."

Palin has also shown herself to be an active and effective endorser, aiding South Carolina Gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, among others, in her rise to electoral success. She has aligned herself with women and moms, cleverly casting her as the leader of a group of "mama grizzlies" looking out for their cubs and starring in a well-received video from her PAC designed to appeal to conservative women that doubled as an unofficial kickoff spot to a possible presidential campaign.

Palin's fundraising isn't a completely new development: She actually raised more in the second half of last year than she has in the first half of this year, as CNN's Peter Hamby notes. And her political action committee still trails potential rival Mitt Romney's Free and Strong America PAC when it comes to money raised.

But Palin has begun putting to rest speculation that she isn't doing enough to position herself for a possible bid. Political action committees are often used by potential candidates to fund the arduous process of laying the groundwork for a campaign - paying for staff, travel, and doing the sorts of favors for candidates (such as raising money and making endorsements) they hope will be repaid. The increased activity by Palin's PAC in the second quarter - which included a serious fundraising push on its own behalf - suggests SarahPAC is more competitive with the her potential rivals' PACs than many realized.

Serious concerns remain about a Palin run from within her own party, with some in the GOP worried that the divisive and controversial former vice presidential nominee would have little chance to defeat President Obama should she reach the general election. But Palin remains popular within her party, and it's easy to imagine her winning two of the three first nominating contests and generating significant early momentum. (The scenario, briefly: She wins the Iowa caucuses on the basis of her appeal to social conservatives, finishes a respectable second or third in New Hampshire and then takes South Carolina with Haley's help.)

The former governor has been coy about whether she wants to take the plunge. But thanks to yesterday's fundraising numbers and her recent political activity, Washington insiders are starting to very seriously consider the implications of a Palin run for the White House.

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