Bad news: Media "confused" by Palin's bus tour; Update: Tour to include stops in Iowa

I’m less confused than they are, but there is one aspect of it that I don’t get.

Day 2 of Sarah Palin’s bus tour, and the former vice presidential nominee has prompted little more than confusion at exactly what she is up to.

Palin started Memorial Day at the National Archives in Washington, but the only reporters who made it to her brief media availability there were those who happened to see tourists posting on Twitter that they had spotted her…

For supporters and reporters looking for more details, Palin isn’t providing. Palin’s staff has been either unresponsive to reporters’ requests or told them to check the SarahPAC website, which only updates with information after she’s stopped somewhere.

CNN reported Monday that some of Palin’s supporters had already started to gather midday at Gettysburg in hopes that she might be on her way. But by then, Palin’s bus was rolling into Mount Vernon instead.

The Times snarks that, notwithstanding the branded bus she’s riding around in and the obvious campaign implications of a tour that’s destined for New Hampshire, she’s “made it quite clear that she just wants to be left alone.” Which isn’t really true: She’s been chatting with supporters along the way but keeping her interactions with the media scrum that’s following her around to a minimum. Why make a huge press splash by announcing a tour of the country’s major historical sites and then not do any media availabilities or photo ops with local pols along the way? Time’s Jay Newton-Small speculates:

Where does she go next? North –her staff will say nothing more. Political reporters have fanned out from Antietam to Gettysburg on Sunday afternoon in anticipation of her next potential stop. Congratulations, Sarah Palin, you have turned the Washington press corps into a bunch of paparazzi stalking your every move.

As Palin moves up the East Coast, ending her trip in politically important New Hampshire, the press seems poised to follow. I would say Palin’s goal is to torture the “lame stream media,” but there may be more going through her mind. In many ways, it’s a smart ploy. The frustration and time spent looking for Palin, only to have her say next to nothing, is driving the press wild. Even if it yields few stories, Palin still controls her own message by blogging the trip herself, and forcing everyone to check her website to see what she’s saying and where she’s going.

The goal of the road trip seems to be two fold: 1) to bring the attention back to her after months of laying low, and 2) raise money for her political acti0n committee ahead of June’s Federal Election Commission reporting deadline.

Exactly. She needed the media to help put the word out about the bus tour, but once that mission was accomplished, she made SarahPAC a near-exclusive outlet for coverage. The photos of her at the National Archives posted there right now are, in fact, exclusive from what I can tell. It’s very much Palin’s M.O. to want to reach her supporters directly, without any media filter, so that makes sense. And like Newton-Small says, it’s smart politics to elevate SarahPAC’s profile given the prominence of the “Donate” button on the site. (Even the bus tour pop-up that greets you there contains a donation link.) If she’s serious about running, she’ll have to bankroll the campaign through small contributions. Pegging the bus tour to the website now is a shrewd way to nudge her supporters into thinking about that.

Or maybe it’s even more than that:

Sarah Palin’s “One Nation” Bus Tour launched Sunday, but is it an unofficial exploratory phase for a potential 2012 run or is it a Palin family vacation stopping in historic sites in the Northeast? The answer may well be both.

According to a source with knowledge of Palin’s operation and thinking, keep a careful eye on how long the tour lasts, because it is intended as a way to test the presidential waters. If the road trip ends abruptly, it’s a sign she didn’t get the enthusiastic responses she believes she needs to launch a campaign. If the tour heads to regions outside of the Northeast like Iowa and South Carolina that, the source says, is a “big indicator” that Palin will pull the trigger.

If that’s true, that she’s using the tour to gauge grassroots interest in her candidacy, then they must be keeping a close eye on the daily donation take too. It’s a better indicator of enthusiasm than the crowds at the tour stops, needless to say, since it’s immune from bad weather, people having other plans over the holiday, etc. Which brings me to the one aspect of this that I don’t understand: Why not announce her itinerary in advance on the SarahPAC website? Having huge crowds of supporters waiting to meet her at each stop would make for dynamite photo ops, especially in contrast to the palpable lack of excitement surrounding Romney and Pawlenty. Could be she’s worried that announcing the schedule in advance would also bring out the Palin critics, but that’s an unavoidable risk for any pol making a public appearance. Plus, her supporters are famously more devoted than most politicians’; I’d bet cash money that the cheers from local supporters would swamp any boos along the way. Why not give them a heads up?

Update: Another big Palin scoop for RCP, which obviously has an inside track with SarahPAC:

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will travel to Iowa next month as part of her nationwide bus tour, two sources with direct knowledge of the plan told RealClearPolitics…

Though Palin has insisted that her “One Nation” bus tour — being kicked off from Washington over the holiday weekend — is intended merely to “highlight America’s foundation,” RCP has learned that the road trip was designed as a test run to find out whether she can execute a decidedly unconventional campaign game plan.

Palin — and especially her husband, Todd — is said to be leaning toward running. But multiple sources said that their foremost remaining concern was whether it would be logistically feasible for their large family to hit the road together for the next several months in a prospective campaign that would rely heavily on bus travel.

The Shushannah Walshe piece that I quoted above also called the bus tour a test run — and said that if it detoured to Iowa, that’d be a “big indicator” that she was in. On the other hand, we already knew that the “Undefeated” movie would debut in Iowa next month; although there was no confirmation that Palin would attend the opening (RCP’s story about the movie claimed “Palin aides have not yet decided whether the former governor will play an active role in the film’s premiere”), it’s no great surprise that she might, in which case it makes sense that the bus tour might end up there. Smoking gun that she’s running or not?