From Alaska to Georgia, Sarah Palin has pursued a familiar political path this year, endorsing Republican candidates and picking up political chits.
Potential presidential candidates have done that in midterm campaigns for more than a generation, often disclaiming any interest beyond helping their party or, in her case, the GOP women she calls "Mama Grizzlies."
"That's not where my focus is," she said recently when asked about 2012 on "Fox News Sunday."
She may have scored a notable success in helping oust Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Tuesday's Alaska GOP primary, but overall her record has been mixed. She helped Nikki Haley win the Republican nomination for governor of South Carolina but failed in a similar effort for Karen Handel in Georgia. One congressional backer of Handel's rival noted pointedly that Georgians could do "their own thinking on things like this."
But while the former Alaska governor often sounds and looks like a presidential candidate, her failure to pursue other aspects of the presidential playbook has created significant doubts about her intentions.
The consensus in the political community is that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will run in 2012. But it's sharply split on what Palin will do, though she'd almost certainly rank among the GOP favorites.
The arguments in favor of her running are obvious:
She's the best known and most outspoken GOP opponent of President Obama and, in a fairly drab field, the most charismatic. She creates more enthusiasm among the faithful than potential rivals.
She can raise money more quickly than most, though she probably can't rival Romney, who spent $35 million of his own in 2008.
Her base among religious conservatives would be an asset in Iowa's leadoff caucuses. So would her primary endorsement of the likely next governor, Republican Terry Branstad. Haley would be a strong ally in crucial South Carolina.
Unless a governor like Haley Barbour of Mississippi or Rick Perry of Texas runs, she'd do well in the Southern primaries that pick a significant proportion of GOP delegates. Though former House Speaker Newt Gingrich represented Georgia, it's unclear how Southern his political base would be.
If timing is everything, Palin might be smart to run while she's hot.
In four years, the Republican field might include such newer stars as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and, if elected senator this year, Florida's Marco Rubio.
Obama remains likely to enter 2012 as a favorite for re-election. (Since 1892, Jimmy Carter is the only elected president who restored his party to the White House but then lost re-election.) Republicans might go with their heart on grounds they'd have little to lose.
But before awarding Palin the 2012 GOP nomination by acclamation, it's worth mentioning some reasons indicating she might not run.
Though supporters love her, there aren't enough. Polls show that most Americans consider her unqualified. Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston's criticism of her Georgia campaigning is the tip of an iceberg of GOP establishment resistance.
She might face tough going among the larger electorates of major industrial states.
She's done little to build the infrastructure for a presidential bid in the way several potential candidates have. It's not clear she even wants to be president. It's a tough, 24/7 job, and she had enough of the Alaska governorship after 21/2 years.
Running for president, much less serving, is harder still.
So will she or won't she?
Contact Leubsdorf, the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News, at firstname.lastname@example.org.