Fundraising prowess is a key characteristic for any potential presidential candidate to possess. So, does Sarah Palin have it? Depends on how you interpret recently released numbers. Her political action committee, SarahPAC, today reported raising $1.65 million in the first half of 2011 — with a total of 36,700 contributions from more than 24,000 contributors.

That money couldn’t be put toward a presidential campaign, but, as Michael O’Brien over at The Hill put it, “the haul reflects the extent of Palin’s latent support that could be converted into support for a White House bid.” The bare number doesn’t sound particularly impressive in light of what other candidates have raised. It doesn’t even sound particularly impressive compared to what another non-candidate has raised: Americans for Rick Perry raised $400,000 in just a few weeks.

But the number of contributors matters and what Palin was able to do with the money also matters. Palin spent $1.59 million in the past six months. SarahPAC Treasurer Tim Crawford declined to say exactly how the money was used beyond noting donations to candidates ($65,000) and to the Young America’s Foundation ($18,700), but it seems safe to assume some of it went toward the One Nation bus tour, which garnered all kinds of attention from the media and the public. Based on her return on investment on that, Palin knows how to stretch a dollar to her advantage.

Perhaps more importantly, her performance and popularity as the GOP vice presidential nominee in 2008 surely reassures her about her own ability to excite the base. The John McCain campaign undoubtedly picked up once he added Palin to his ticket (even though correlation does not equal causation, of course). Admittedly, she would face obstacles this time around that she didn’t then. Back then, donors and voters who didn’t know Palin presumably took time to “learn” her. Today, almost everybody seems to think they know her — even if all they know is the caricature.

But the point is, a Palin campaign wouldn’t suffer for lack of money. She’d be in a similar or slightly better position than most of the GOP field, all of whose donations have suffered from a down economy and the split decisions among donors this early in the game. As Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus put it, “I don’t think anyone is going to lose an election in 2012 for president for lack of funds. I think we’re going to have total saturation on both sides of the aisle.”

On that note of “total saturation on both sides” and to remember what will decide this upcoming election far more than money, check out this post by Commentary’s Alana Goodman for some fundraising numbers you won’t hear from the Obama campaign.