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'Sarah Palin's Alaska': Running for president on reality TV?

By Jim Acosta, CNN
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Palin show: Reality TV or campaign ad?
  • Sarah Palin's reality TV program shows her fishing, rock-climbing, cooking for her kids
  • The show debuts just as potential 2012 presidential candidates are making plans
  • It keeps her in the public eye, but doesn't commit her to run, one analyst says
  • Another observer, Karl Rove, says it raises questions about Palin's "gravitas"

Washington (CNN) -- Can Sarah Palin see 2012 from her house? You betcha.

"Sarah Palin's Alaska," a reality TV show that follows the adventures of the former governor and her family in their home state, debuted Sunday night on TLC. The program, showcasing the 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate as a rugged outdoorswoman, spotlights Palin's megawatt persona -- just in time for the 2012 campaign.

Want to see Palin and her 9-year-old daughter Piper fishing near a real-life "Mama Grizzly" and her cubs? Got it. Want to see Palin and her husband, former "First Dude" Todd, rock-climbing in Denali National Park? Got it. There are seaplanes and dog sleds and firearms, and so on.

Unfortunately for political junkies, there isn't much to sink their teeth into, unless they also enjoy fresh-caught salmon.

In the first episode, the family complains about journalist Joe McGinniss, who has moved in next door to observe the family for an upcoming book. Todd Palin calls McGinniss' book a "hit piece." In protest, Todd Palin and his friends build a 15-foot fence between the two homes.

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"It's just none of his flippin' business," Sarah Palin says on the TLC program, comparing the fence-building project to efforts to secure the nation's border with Mexico.

The Palin kids seem tailor-made for reality TV. Scene-stealing daughter Piper eats cake batter off the whisk and complains about her mom's constant texting on the BlackBerry. Perhaps it's another tweet or a message on Palin's Facebook page. Think "Sarah and Todd Plus Five."

All of that just might be the point.

"Everything Palin is doing is ambiguous. These things are helpful if she runs for president. But they don't necessarily commit her to doing so," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "She maximizes her influence as long as people think she might run," Sabato added.

Palin remains a polarizing national figure. A recent Gallup poll found 52 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of the former governor. Another poll conducted by AP-GfK found 49 percent of Americans view Palin unfavorably. But among Republicans, it's a dramatically different story. That same AP-GfK poll discovered 79 percent of GOP voters like Palin.

The eight-week program wraps up in mid-January, just as many potential Republican presidential candidates will be deciding whether to take the White House plunge. The first GOP presidential debate, hosted by NBC News and Politico, is scheduled for next spring.

iReporter: Palin's "great qualities" evident in series

Last month, former White House adviser Karl Rove said the reality show raises questions about whether Palin has the "gravitas" to become president.

"I am not certain how that fits in the American calculus of 'That helps me see you in the Oval Office,'" Rove told the Daily Telegraph newspaper in London.

Rove knows something about political stagecraft, having spent years at George W. Bush's Western White House -- his ranch in Crawford, Texas, which offered up endless images of the then-president clearing brush and driving his pickup truck.

Despite Rove's criticism, the potential Palin-for-president rollout rolls on. In the coming weeks, she is planning to promote her second book, "America by Heart." Her 16-state book tour includes two important stops -- the early presidential battlegrounds of Iowa and South Carolina.