Sarah hits the road as party engine splutters
SEEN until now as amorphous and dull, the field of Republicans positioning themselves potentially to take on President Barack Obama in next year's presidential race was exhibiting some electricity yesterday thanks to a bus, some motorbikes and a certain former governor of Alaska.
While most polls still give frontrunner status to the former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who will formally launch his repeat bid for the White House in New Hampshire this Thursday, the eyes of grassroots Republicans and the media were last night on Sarah Palin as she pulled out of Washington DC in a colourfully painted bus for what was advertised as a tour of historic sites in the eastern United States.
Ms Palin, who for months has been teasing everyone about her intentions regarding the 2012 race, kicked off the week-long tour with a chaotic appearance at a veterans' motorcycle rally on the Washington mall on Sunday. It was an intrusion that was not especially welcomed by the organisers.
"She certainly is a major factor," said Senator John McCain. But like everyone else, he could not say exactly what she was up to. "Whether she'll even run or not, I don't know," he said.
Even the bus tour retained a degree of mystery yesterday, with no word on its precise itinerary and nothing by way of details on the website that announced it.
It is known it will end in New Hampshire and likely stops along the way include the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and Civil War battlefields at Gettysburg and Antietam. The website offers a brief audio message from Ms Palin, sounding like someone who does want to run.
"We have a vision for our country and it is a vision anchored in time-tested truths," she begins, before offering the Tea Party bromide: "The Constitution provides the best road map for a more perfect union."
Her site also contains several postings on her favourite topic -- the wretchedness of the "lamestream media", as she calls the US press. "Goodness, cleaning up the sloppiness of reporters could be a full-time job," one post begins.
It is not just Ms Palin's manoeuvrings that have the Republican Party suddenly on alert, however. The Republican Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, on Friday suggested for the first time that he might consider running, despite previously insisting he wouldn't. His entry would drastically alter the dynamics of the contest. He is deeply conservative and has never lost an election.
Unsettling the picture further is news that Republican grandees in New Hampshire -- which traditionally holds the first of the nomination primaries on the heels of the first caucus-style voting in Iowa -- will be cheering Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, at a fundraising event on Thursday.
Mr Giuliani, who will be the keynote speaker, may thus be thinking of pitching his hat into the ring.
If he does so, he will presumably be blocking out memories of his campaign sputtering to nowhere in 2008.
Ms Palin's arrival amid the Harley-Davidson-riding veterans, all members of a charitable organisation called Rolling Thunder, caused commotion as reporters and fans crowded to glimpse her.
Dressed in black leather and on the back of a bike, she led a contingent heading out of a car park at the Pentagon. "I'm not very appreciative of the way she came in here," remarked Ted Shpak, Rolling Thunder's national legislative director.
"If she wanted to come on the ride, she should have come in the back."
Republican contender Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota, was the first mainstream candidate to announce his intentions to run but is seen by some as lacking the toughness to take on Barack Obama.
Mr Romney, a familiar face from 2008, leads a new Gallup poll of likely runners. Counting against him are his Mormonism and the Obama-like health bill he passed as governor of Massachusetts. However, he has a solid fundraising operation that raised $10m (€7m) in a single day last week. (© Independent News Service)