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From surprise to saturation, the Sarah Palin strategy

By Jonathan Mann, CNN
Sarah Palin enjoys the outdoor life in Alaska
Sarah Palin enjoys the outdoor life in Alaska
  • Political debate is intensifying over whether Sarah Palin will run for president
  • Sarah Palin currently stars in a reality TV show about her life in Alaska
  • The former vice presidential candidate is now a political commentator, author and public speaker

"Our Mann in America" is a weekly column discussing the big talking points in the U.S. for an international audience. Jonathan Mann is an anchor for CNN International and the host of Political Mann.

(CNN) -- -- America is watching her climb glaciers on TV, court controversy on the internet and back political candidates nationwide, adjusting to the increasingly obvious idea Sarah Palin really does have her eyes on the U.S. presidency.

"I'm engaged in the internal deliberations candidly and having that discussion with my family," she says in a New York Times Magazine cover story that got a lot of attention even before it hit the stands.

Palin always gets a lot of attention. A former governor of Alaska and Republican candidate for the vice presidency, she now seems to be working full-time at simply staying famous. She's doing very well at it.

She's just launched "Sarah Palin's Alaska," a reality-TV travelogue featuring the 46-year-old mother of five rafting, climbing and target-shooting her way through her picturesque home state.

Virtually every challenge offers Palin an opportunity for the wisecracks and homespun wisdom that have become her trademark. When her daughter Bristol had trouble aiming a shotgun, she counseled: "Don't retreat, reload." Like some of her other remarks on the program, it's a line she recycled from past political campaigns, as if to remind viewers about what was really on her mind while she was out there in the wilderness.

"Sarah Palin's Alaska" had the highest ratings its network ever received for a debut show. But it's only part of her ongoing push across multiple platforms.

She is a featured political commentator on Fox News. Bristol appears on a third network, as a contestant on the show "Dancing with the Stars." (Palin appeared in the audience for that this week too.)

The list goes on. She is a best-selling author and well-paid public speaker. She is also a prolific presence on the internet, with more than 2.4 million fans on Facebook and roughly 300,000 on Twitter, her tweets inevitably picked-up and parsed by the mainstream press.

But at the same time many Americans consider Palin uninformed and entirely ill-equipped to be president, an entertaining oddity and a figure of fun.

That keeps her in the country's conversations too. Months ago, she tweeted a call to American Muslims to oppose the construction of a mosque close to New York's Ground Zero site. She conflated two similar words -- refute and repudiate -- and urged them to "refudiate" it. This week the New Oxford American Dictionary named "refudiate" its top word of the year, though the editors will not be dignifying it with a place in the dictionary.

It's easy to forget how rapid Palin's rise has been. She emerged as a national figure just two and a half years ago, when then Republican presidential candidate John McCain startled the country by choosing her as his vice-presidential running mate. The strategy then seemed to hinge on surprise. This time the key seems to be saturation.

It's having a polarizing effect. Pollsters at the Gallup organization find that 80 percent of Republicans have a favorable impression of her. Support like that could get her the Republican nomination for the presidency in the election two years from now.

But among all Americans, 52 percent have an unfavorable view, her highest negative rating since entering national life. The trend Gallup seems to be charting is that the more Americans outside of the Republican Party know about her, the less they like her.

Most tellingly, even with President Barack Obama's own approval numbers slumping, he would still enjoy a comfortable lead over Palin if an election were held today, according to a poll conducted for the influential website

"That scares the Republican establishment," said Politico Executive Editor Jim Vandehei. "Virtually every single person I talk to in Washington is fearful that she'll run because they think she would be an unmitigated disaster for the Republican Party."

Palin has feuded openly with some of the best known establishment figures in her party. Her Republican allies are closer to the grassroots. She is particularly popular among the Tea Party activists who are trying to wrest control of the Republican Party. They are also outsiders and populists who have campaigned against better-known figures.

Tea Party candidates in this month's Congressional election eagerly sought her endorsement and her support was decisive in several of their victories. The election results were a disaster for Obama's Democrats. They lost control of the House of Representatives and nearly lost the Senate too.

The Republicans are taking aim directly at Obama now, working to limit him to a single term.

"Don't retreat, reload." Palin clearly sees an opportunity. And America sees a lot of Palin.