Sarah Palin's actions and talk continue to inspire, puzzle across spectrum

She wrote a mega bestseller, earns $100,000 a speech, and revs up Republicans like no one else.

But is Sarah Palin, who's scheduled to speak in Wichita on Sunday, serious about running for president?

Only Palin knows for sure and, for now, she's not saying.

As the former Alaska governor prepares to speak at Intrust Bank Arena, she is leaving behind tantalizing hints about a potential White House bid on the heels of her 2008 vice-presidential outing.

In February, she said it would be absurd not to consider what she could do to help the country. She said she would run for president "if I believed that that is the right thing to do for our country and for the Palin family."

Two weeks ago at a Boston tea party rally, she appeared to open the door to teaming up with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who failed to win the GOP's 2008 presidential nomination.

"Sounds pretty good," she declared about the potential pairing.

Asked who would be atop the ticket, Palin laughed. "Ha! I haven't even thought that far ahead yet," she said.

But her focus since July 3 last year appears to have centered on money-making as much as politicking.

On that day, Palin summoned a crew of national reporters to her Wasilla home and stunned them with the news that she was quitting as governor and taking her "fight for what's right in a new direction."

She added, "I cannot stand here as your governor and allow the millions of dollars and all that time go to waste just so I can hold the title of governor." That was a reference to the impact of multiple ethics complaints against her, most of which have been dismissed.

At the time, according to a profile in New York Magazine, her life had become increasingly difficult, marked by long commutes to Juneau and legal proceedings that were driving her and her family deeper into debt.

Her approval ratings in Alaska had dropped into the low 50s from a high of 80 percent before Republican John McCain picked her as his running mate.

Palin said her family weighed heavily in her decision to quit the governorship.

"I polled the most important people in my life, my kids, where the count was unanimous," she said.

A new fortune

Since then, Palin's new direction has resulted in an estimated $12 million fortune built on frequent speeches, where she charges the same $100,000 rate that Colin Powell and George W. Bush command. She's sold 2.2 million copies of her memoir and now plans a second book, according to the New York profile.

In January, she reportedly signed a three-year deal as a Fox News contributor for $1 million a year. She has a second deal with the TLC network for an eight-part series about her home state of Alaska. Palin's take: about $250,000 an episode.

Her salary as Alaska's governor? Only $125,000 a year.

At tea party rallies, she whips up crowds in the same plain-spoken, style that made her an instant sensation when McCain made her his unexpected vice presidential pick.

"It's so inspiring to see real people — not politicos, inside-the-beltway professionals — come out, stand up and speak out for common sense conservative principles," she said at the event billed as the first national tea party convention.

As for President Obama, Palin has complained, "He's not listening."

Regional speeches

Tickets still are available for Palin's appearance at Intrust Bank Arena on Sunday.

Tickets cost $122, $92, $77, $52 and $37 at the fundraiser for the Bethel Life School Association of Wichita. Group discounts of $10 a seat now are being offered in the $77 and $92 sections.

A few $1,000 VIP tickets remain for dinner, a photo with Palin, a copy of her book and premium seating.

Palin also is appearing Saturday in Independence, Mo. One who plans to attend says he likes Palin's moxie.

"She's real," said Greg Ward of Tonganoxie. "She doesn't play political games. She lays it out there," Ward said. "She calls it like she sees it. She's not engaged in political correctness. So many politicians, you can't get a straight answer out of."

Whether she one day runs for president may not matter, Ward said. "I think her strength and her role that she's engaged in right now is basically just being a voice for real conservatism."

Concerns about Palin

She would not be the favorite in a one-on-one showdown with the sitting commander-in-chief. A CNN poll released April 13 showed Obama defeating Palin 55 to 42 percent.

The same poll showed Obama's favorable rating at 57 percent to Palin's 39 percent, with 55 percent saying they held an unfavorable view of her.

"I think that there's a real concern about the absence of ideas (from her)," said James Staab, chair of the University of Central Missouri's political science department.

"It's one thing to disagree on substantive issues. But what are the alternatives? You can't simply be anti-government because that's not the solution to a lot of the problems we face," Staab noted.

No question Palin had a rough coming out party after McCain selected her. Her now-famous interview with CBS' Katie Couric, where Palin struggled with a series of answers, is a performance many people can't forget.

"A lot of it has to do with the caricature the media has created," said Jay Shadwick, a former Johnson County Republican chairman. "Once you've been labeled as a national figure... it becomes hard to shake that."

Still, dismissing her would be a mistake, Shadwick said.

"She has substance," he said. "She's going to end up being more of a celebrity who serves more of a purpose by not being an elected official."

Independent operator

Liz Cheney, daughter of the former vice president, doesn't take a stand on whether Palin will run or not. But she calls the Alaskan a "tremendous spokesperson" and a "significant" GOP voice.

"We need leaders and candidates who believe in a limited government, low taxes, and a strong national defense, preserving and protecting American liberty — people who focus on those issues, and who are willing to stand up and fight," Cheney said. "That's what the voters are going to be looking for in 2010 and 2012."

GOP political consultant Patrick Tuohey, however, said some party leaders are still politically perplexed by Palin.

"They don't know what to make of her because she operates independent of any particular issue or platform," Tuohey said. "They are excited and terrified by her."

Related stories from Wichita Eagle