WASHINGTON (Reuters) - If Sarah Palin is going to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, she is sure going about it her own way.
A conservative TV idol and household name, the former Alaska governor sees little need to behave like a traditional presidential candidate.
Palin has been nowhere to be seen recently in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, while potential rivals scour in search of staff and supporters.
Instead, Palin has relied on her appearances on Fox News and often caustic comments on her Facebook page to rally support for conservative causes and perhaps prepare the ground for a run against Democratic President Barack Obama.
“She’s certainly feisty and doesn’t think that the normal rules and the normal conventional wisdom apply to her,” said Republican strategist Charlie Black.
A relative unknown who burst onto the national scene as John McCain’s running mate in 2008, Palin is adored by millions of conservative Republicans.
But she is a polarizing figure who is behind in national polls compared with other possible candidates like Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.
Last week, Palin visited India and Israel to beef up her foreign policy credentials and dispel criticism she would be a lightweight on the world stage.
She skipped an opportunity to speak to conservatives in Washington recently at a conference that most would-be Republican presidential contenders used to test the waters.
Unlike the others in the Republican field, she is not advanced in planning, saying there is plenty of time to organize a campaign if she wants to do so.
“I don’t think that there needs to be a rush still to get out there as a declared candidate,” she said in New Delhi. “I think there’s still plenty of time to find out who is going to put their name forward.”
She has been in the background in recent weeks as senior Republicans like Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich move closer to declaring themselves as candidates.
Financing a campaign is unlikely to be a problem for Palin, a best-selling author who by one reckoning received the equivalent of $18 million in free media exposure through her TV show “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.”
The program presented Palin as a folksy mother with a tough touch. She shot a deer and gutted salmon with her family.
Known for her feisty political comments, she was judged by many to have gone too far and damaged her presidential ambitions by accusing her opponents of manufacturing a “blood libel” against her.
She was rebutting charges that tough political rhetoric might have inspired a man accused of killing six people and wounding U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in January in a Tucson, Arizona, shooting rampage.
Palin has been coy about declaring presidential ambitions.
She told Fox News on Wednesday night that “I’m still not closing the door, at this time” to a candidacy, while noting that “you don’t need a title, you don’t need an office to make a difference. I’m proof of that.”
One school of thought among Republican operatives is that Palin can wait months to declare her candidacy, maybe even until September.
“I don’t think you can write her off,” said Republican strategist Black.
Other Republicans say Palin must be seeing the same public opinion polls that they are. For example:
In North Carolina, she has a 37 percent favorability rating and 57 percent disapproval, a Public Policy Polling survey found. The same polling organization found her still well-liked among Ohio Republicans but in fourth place behind potential rivals Huckabee, Romney and Gingrich.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll found Palin’s favorability ratings among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents at 58 percent, a strong showing, but way down from the 88 percent favorable rating she enjoyed in 2008.
“I don’t think she is going to run,” said Republican strategist Rich Galen. “She can read a poll as well as anybody.”
The experts point to the hard work required to put together a competitive campaign.
“It’s great to go overseas and certainly exhibit some foreign policy acumen, but honestly you’ve got to spend a lot of time in New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina and so on,” said Republican pollster Adam Geller. “There’s a lot of organizing that needs to be done.”
Yet there is the unpredictable nature of Palin that suggests she can never be ruled out, and that the more her critics taunt her, the more likely she is to take it as a challenge and jump in.
Her boosters hope she will ignore the experts and make a go of it.
“Forget the polls (and the pols) and just run, Sarah,” said the pro-Palin blog www.conservatives4palin.com.
Editing by Vicki Allen