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5 reasons why Sarah Palin may be ready to shake up 'uninspired' race

By Mark Preston, CNN Senior Political Editor
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Sarah Palin's next move
  • Analysis: Sarah Palin makes moves that signal she may be ready to enter presidential fray
  • Movie, tour, TV spots, may give U.S. a re-introduction to ex-Alaska governor
  • Latest poll numbers have her second only to Romney in GOP field

Washington (CNN) -- Alaska's "mama grizzly" is coming to the big screen and quite possibly back to the campaign trail, a move that would shake up a GOP presidential primary field that some Republicans complain is "uninspiring."

Sarah Palin is pushing back against Beltway wisdom that she is content to sit on the sidelines in 2012 where she can safely criticize President Obama and offer her 2 cents on the handful of fellow Republicans who are seeking the GOP presidential nomination.

A feature film by a conservative filmmaker extolling the former Alaska governor's virtues will debut next month in Iowa, a critical early voting state that embraces socially conservative candidates like Palin.

Palin launches a national tour this weekend and the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee is dropping hints from the safety of her perch as a paid contributor at Fox News that she has a burning desire to step back into the arena as a candidate. Fox, however, told CNN it was "not changing Sarah Palin's status."

"I think my problem is that I do have the fire in my belly," Palin said in a recent interview on Fox. "I'm so adamantly supportive of the good traditional things about America and our free enterprise system and I want to make sure that America is put back on the right track and we only do that by defeating Obama in 2012."

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It is this kind of talk that fires up a Republican base, particularly conservatives who view social issues as major themes in the 2012 presidential campaign. The Republican primary field is far from set and with the exits of Mitch Daniels, Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump and Haley Barbour from the presidential race, there is renewed griping among some conservatives that no one candidate stands out.

"It really is truly an uninspiring field," said a well-known GOP consultant, who spoke freely about the state of play in the Republican primary on the condition of anonymity.

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The lineup of current and likely GOP presidential candidates includes former governors, business executives, an ambassador and past and present congressional lawmakers. But people are looking for that perfect profile for a candidate to take on President Obama, which may be akin to trying to find a unicorn.

It doesn't exist.

Daniels excited the more centrist, economically focused Republicans, but he would have faced opposition from social conservatives. Huckabee appealed to those social conservatives, but he, too, decided not to jump into the race.

If Palin decides to run, she will be looking for those Huckabee supporters to move to her camp, which a prominent social conservative leader said might not happen.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said that Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, who is considering a White House bid, has caught the eye of many social conservatives and would cut into Palin's support.

"I think things have changed dramatically in the past five months," Perkins said. "I think there is less room for Sarah Palin with Michele Bachmann taking off like she has. She is the full package that a lot of folks are looking for."

Still, Palin is performing much stronger than Bachmann and just about everyone else in the early national polls such as Thursday's Gallup Poll, which said Palin, with 15% support, is just 2 percentage points behind front-runner Mitt Romney.

So, is Palin seriously considering a bid? Let's read the tea leaves:

1. A favorable movie about her life is about to be released in Iowa;

2. She reportedly has bought a house in Arizona (makes more sense to base a presidential campaign in Scottsdale than Wasilla);

3. Favorable polling could nudge her to make a run;

4. There is a perceived lack of passion about the current GOP primary field; and

5. The fact is, she won't rule out a presidential bid.

But maybe Palin is playing the media much like "The Donald" did for months as he openly toyed with the idea of running for president.

Trump ultimately decided not to run, although he assured us all he would have won had he done so. Palin could be doing the same thing by dropping hints and refusing to close the door to a presidential run, providing catnip for the media and political types who keep a close eye on Fox and Facebook -- her chosen venues to communicate with the masses.

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If she runs, it is the core group of social conservatives who Palin would be counting on, not the so-called GOP establishment types. Palin relishes being the anti-Washington politician, which is a powerful message to send to conservative voters angry at the direction President Obama has taken the country.

Yet the outsider status has its drawbacks as well, if you are seriously considering running a presidential campaign. The same "establishment" types outsider candidates condemn are also needed to run an effective national campaign. As of now, Palin has a skeleton political staff, at best, and her unconventional use of Facebook and Fox has some consultants scratching their heads.

"I don't think she has much of any political strategy," said the GOP consultant. "I don't mind her ideologically. But I think she is operationally a complete disaster."

The Iowa caucuses do not take place until early next year, plenty of time for Palin to staff up and put a political plan into place -- if, in fact, she is serious and decides to run.

For now, though, with Palin or without, Perkins said conservatives are taking a second look at the entire GOP primary.

"I would say that it is a void without form," he said. "It has the potential makings for an exciting race. People were waiting on the better known candidates, like Huckabee and the others. When they didn't see them get in, people had to reprocess. They are rebooting, thinking about who to back in the cycle."