“A top goal of the nation’s most influential national Tea Party group is to stop Mitt Romney from winning the Republican nomination for president…

“‘I don’t think I’ve met any groups or any local activists that like him or want him to be president,’ [FreedomWorks grassroots liaison Brendan] Steinhauser said. ‘They just don’t believe he’s authentic. That’s the biggest problem in addition to the health care thing.’…

“While FreedomWorks hopes to raise roughly $20 million for the 2012 election cycle, the group’s focus will not be on fundraising or TV campaign ads. They will concentrate instead on nudging the grassroots toward coalescing behind whoever ends up being the most electable alternative to Romney. They see their role as being crucial after the GOP candidates have gone through the first three or four primary states: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada…

“‘What we’re going to be ready to do, is when these candidates -– let’s say it’s Romney versus one of the governors, or there’s four candidates –- at that point that’s when we probably really start focusing on getting behind one person,’ he said. ‘And then these networks will help propel that person through those states.'”

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“In one sense, Ms. Palin’s flirtation with the idea of a presidential campaign has not been unlike Mr. Trump’s. Like the real estate mogul, Ms. Palin has used confrontation with President Obama as a way to seize the media spotlight. And as Mr. Trump did, the former Alaska governor dangles the promise of a celebrity-infused campaign that would be a kind of political reality show of its own…

“But Mr. Trump’s was a brief dalliance with presidential politics that almost appeared to have been done on a whim. Ms. Palin, by contrast, has been moving slowly and methodically for several years. Aides have said for months that she wanted to be in a position to run for president if that’s what she decided to do.

“Ms. Palin and her aides revealed few clues on Thursday, which leaves a lot of people in Washington and around the country guessing.”

***
“‘The bottom line is Sarah Palin is not going to run for president,’ says a Republican adviser close to front-runner Mitt Romney. ‘She’s making money, she’s moved on, she’s kind of an entertainer rather than a politician. She still has some sway with the grass roots, but she is not going to run.’…

“‘Watch what she has done,’ says the Republican close to Romney. ‘Has she contacted one major donor across the country about putting together an organization? Has she talked to one member of the Republican National Committee about working for a campaign, or one governor, or one former governor about working for a campaign? The answer is no.’…

“‘I know a lot of people who would be inclined to go to a movie premiere, or a book signing, or go listen to her give a speech,’ says a veteran GOP politico in Iowa, ‘but I don’t know a lot of people who are saying Sarah Palin needs to run.’ The same is true in the other early states of New Hampshire and South Carolina, where some key GOP operatives view her chances with great skepticism.”

***
“We know what President Obama’s strategists would like: a civil war between the Romney’s establishment Republicans and Palin’s Tea Party populists. They would like it to mirror the 1996 GOP race, in which Steve Forbes drained Bob Dole of resources, weakening him for the general election.

“The view among Republican strategists involved with various current and past campaigns is that Romney benefits from Palin’s entry. Romney’s supporters are unlikely to leave him for Palin. Palin not only steals a portion of the anti-Romney vote from candidates like Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman; she also steals available television air time. She makes it harder for second-tier candidates to get noticed…

“There is one scenario, however, in which Palin’s entry could cause Romney’s numbers to fall. Right now, the dynamic of the race is that there is Romney and an anti-Romney candidate. If it becomes instead Palin and an anti-Palin candidate, Huntsman or Pawlenty might have a moment in the sun.”

***
“Although the talk running rampant inside the Beltway is that the path to the nomination is more wide open than ever, a cadre of Republican presidential strategists contacted for this story said that such talk is simply conventional wisdom, with one pointing out that conventional wisdom is usually wrong. If anything, most said that Romney’s late-starting strategy has been masterful and has solidified his spot atop the rest of the field. He will make his candidacy official Thursday in New Hampshire, nearly four months later in the cycle than when he launched four years ago…

“According to a political strategist in Romney’s orbit, ‘Mitt is really well-positioned to win the nomination. He’s the only candidate who can win with an early knockout or a long race, a la Obama 2008. The knockout comes via wins in New Hampshire, Florida and Nevada. The long win comes via his unparalleled finance and political infrastructures, which outlast and outpace the others.’…

“For one thing, he’s avoided getting dragged into worthless early spats. And as Palin prepares to make a splash with a nationwide bus tour and a feature film about her record as governor, there may not be enough oxygen in the room to support in-depth introductions for Pawlenty and Huntsman. Those two former governors are just beginning to make themselves known nationwide, but they may be crowded out for a while by Palin and Romney, because the political class has been waiting for months to see those two break out.”

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“Doesn’t she win because she’s the only woman in the race, perhaps. She’s the only one with any pizzazz and she’s the only cultural right person. She looks fabulous out on the stump. She’s a great show and the others are not a great show.”