Palin readies national bus tour; Update: Fox says no change in Palin's status at network

The “will Sarah Palin run” phase of the Republican primary race has apparently come to a close.  Welcome to the “when will Sarah Palin announce her candidacy” phase of the race.  We found out yesterday that a new two-hour documentary about Palin, Undefeated, will premiere next month in Iowa, then tour through the early primary states of New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada before getting a national release later in the summer.  Today, Palin announced plans for a bus tour of the East Coast that starts on Memorial Day in Washington DC:

After a week in which she reignited speculation about her presidential ambitions, Sarah Palin is announcing plans for what looks like a campaign tour, beginning with an appearance Sunday at the “Rolling Thunder” Memorial Day motorcycle rally of military veterans in Washington, D.C.

The 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, who acknowledged last week she is “seriously considering” a run for the presidency, will continue her “One Nation” tour with further stops along the East Coast. The trip will take her to “historical sites that were key to the formation, survival and growth of the United States of America,” said spokesman Tim Crawford.

Palin-watchers should jump to “no conclusions” about the former Alaska governor’s 2012 plans, Crawford, told National Journal.

The announcement from the Palin camp comes amid renewed intrigue over her 2012 ambitions, fueled by news that a flattering documentary about her career will debut next month in Iowa, the state where the first votes of the 2012 presidential season will be cast early next year.

The name of the tour, “One Nation,” certainly will get a positive response after the much-mocked John Edwards’ “Two Americas” campaign.

It seems pretty clear that Palin wants to raise her national profile, and she wants to do so simultaneously in key early-primary states and in the media centers of Atlantic seaboard.  One doesn’t do that in a presidential primary season without having a specific goal in mind.  If Palin was interested in growing the grassroots for down-ticket Republicans in Congressional races, summer 2011 would be too early to help in that way.

So let’s consider the when of the candidacy.  National Journal reports that the formal entry could come as late as October, when Utah requires candidates to register, and Palin’s reach and name recognition means that she can wait longer to jump into the race.  I’d still expect it sooner rather than later, because Palin will want to use the momentum from the bus tour and the documentary to maximize the impact of her announcement.  She could go as long as Labor Day if the film does boffo box office, but given the usual success of political films, I’d look for something sooner — perhaps as soon as Independence Day.

Sean Hannity offered a sneak peek at the film last night on his show, and it’s an interesting choice of clips.  Palin hones her populist cred by making the oil companies into the antagonists, which may dismay some Republicans who have been fighting efforts by Democrats to demonize “Big Oil” and hike taxes on producers:

Could the film be a game-changer for Palin? I seem to recall a short film, “The Man from Hope,” helping to boost Bill Clinton in the general election after airing during the Democratic convention.

Update: Here’s another good question from OTB’s Doug Mataconis via Twitter: How long before Fox News Channel gives her the same ultimatum given to Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee?

Update II: Question answered, via the Daily Caller:

Fox News does not plan to suspend its contributor contract with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin just yet even though she’s about to embark on a campaign-style bus tour,

“We are not changing Sarah Palin’s status,” said Bill Shine, the executive vice president of programming at Fox News, in a statement provided to The Daily Caller.