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Palin waiting game could run into October

Sarah Palin
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin waves during a Tea Party Express rally on September 5, 2011 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

This article originally appeared on RealClearPolitics.

Decision day for Sarah Palin is coming next week. That is, of course, unless it isn't.

Asked in July when she would decide whether to run for president, the former Alaska governor told Fox News' Sean Hannity, "August and September. You do have to start laying out a plan if you are to be one to throw your hat in the ring, so that's basically the time frame."

During an early August appearance at the Iowa state fair, Palin echoed that language, suggesting again that late-summer was "basically" her deadline to decide.

"That is still a possibility for a timetable," Palin replied when asked about the matter. "Yes, definitely."

For anyone who may have been confused about whether late-September was "definitely" the timetable or merely "definitely a possibility" for a timetable, Palin did little to clarify the matter during another Fox News interview this week. Hannity this time asked her whether November was the month by which she would need to make a decision.

"Legally you do because you have to start getting your ducks lined up to have your name on these ballots," the former Alaska governor said.

As if to offer another layer of fog to the mystery she seems to revel in, Palin added, "Mark my word, it is going to be an unconventional type of election process."

Even if she were to run the wildly nontraditional campaign that she and her advisers have publicly and privately said would be the case if she gets into the race, the 2008 vice presidential candidate would still have to abide by some very conventional cut-off dates for getting her name on primary state ballots.

The first one of concern appears to be Florida, where the Division of Elections has set an Oct. 31 deadline for the Republican Party to provide a list of names of presidential candidates. The very next day, Nov. 1, is the last chance for GOP White House hopefuls to submit a filing fee to get on the ballot in South Carolina.

Despite a string of subsequent states that require the more arduous task of gathering signatures to appear on the ballot, a mid- to late-October entry into the race appears to be an eminently doable prospect for Palin, at least as far as procedural hurdles are concerned.

Logistical feasibility is one consideration, but the practical realities of getting in so late are another matter altogether.

As the other Republican campaigns have geared up over the last few months and early-state voters have begun to align themselves more closely with their preferred candidates, there is an argument to be made that by waiting so long, Palin's decision has effectively been made for her.

But in private conversations, aides to the former governor continue to suggest that there is still time for Palin to take advantage of her unique magnetism and ability to generate untold amounts of free media and small donations to run a volunteer-propelled, uber-grassroots campaign the likes of which modern American politics has never before seen.

Peter Singleton, who has been spearheading Palin's group of self-appointed Iowa volunteers since his first visit to the state in August 2010, is still operating under the assumption that Palin's entry into the race is nearly as certain as the sun -- to which he awakes in a different Iowa town each day -- rising in the east every morning.

Several volunteers for the group Organize4Palin, the most devoted of which have taken sabbaticals from their day jobs, have noted as evidence that Palin has not asked them to cease their activities.

Singleton suggested that Palin might benefit from getting in so late in the game, as the other candidates have burned through resources over the past few months in order to build name recognition and the kinds of campaign infrastructures that she may not even need.

"We don't care at all when she announces and we don't care how she announces -- we're too busy to worry about it," Singleton said. "It doesn't make any difference to me if she announces in a day, in a week, or in a month. And most of the people I'm doing this with feel the same way."

But not all of Palin's supporters feel that way, as Singleton acknowledges. "I know some people are anxious," he said.

If she is still gauging the viability of a potential candidacy before making her ultimate decision, Palin might find grounds for encouragement in a McClatchy-Marist poll released earlier this week that showed her trailing President Obama by just five percentage points in a hypothetical general election matchup and beating him among independents.

Palin, who does not employ a pollster and joked in Iowa earlier this month that polls were "for strippers and cross-country skiers," has also placed third and within striking distance of Mitt Romney and Rick Perry in several recent Republican primary surveys -- further evidence that she might very well have the potential to turn the GOP race into a three-way contest with the two front-runners if she does jump in.

There are currently no indications that Palin has taken any steps toward planning what would likely be a major announcement rally, nor has she made additional staff hires that she would need for even the most bare-bones presidential campaign operation.

But Palin's aides insist that they have constructed a plan by which they could have a fully functional -- if tiny, by contemporary standards -- operation ready within a couple of weeks.

The next item on Palin's official agenda is a paid speech at a business conference in South Korea during the second week of October -- an event that overlaps with a GOP debate scheduled for Oct. 11 in Hanover, N.H.

Earlier this week, SarahPAC treasurer Tim Crawford sent out a fundraising letter that solicited contributions for Palin's political action committee. The letter noted that Palin was "on the verge of making her decision of whether or not to run for office."

PAC funds cannot be transferred to a presidential campaign, but Crawford's letter seemed designed to give donors the impression that their contributions would help with the cause.

"Someone must save our nation from this road to European Socialism," Crawford wrote. "Do you think it should be Gov. Palin?"

As September turns to October, the next person who will have to answer that question will be Palin herself.

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Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News..