In explaining why she chose not to run for president in 2012, Sarah Palin acknowledged implicitly what others have said about her: She can be more valuable remaining a prominent cheerleader rallying the conservative cause than as an office-seeker whose lightning-rod persona could end up alienating voters that the Republican Party desperately needs.
"I believe I can be helping in getting true public servants elected to office, not just in the presidency, but we have 33 Senate seats coming up, we have a House of Representatives [and] we need to strengthen the numbers," Palin said Wednesday on Fox News' "On The Record With Greta Van Susteren," hours after announcing she wouldn't be a candidate.
"Conservatives understand our country has to get back on the right track economically here, and ... I believe I can be an effective choice for some positive change in these positions."
Palin added, "Really, you don't need a title to make a difference in this country. I think that I'm proof of that."
Putting to rest more than three years of speculation about whether she would seek the nomination, the 2008 vice presidential runner-up made her announcement Wednesday in a letter to supporters.
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"After much prayer and serious consideration, I have decided that I will not be seeking the 2012 GOP nomination for president of the United States," she wrote in the letter, obtained by ABC News. "As always, my family comes first and obviously Todd and I put great consideration into family life before making this decision."
Her decision further solidifies the Republican presidential field in the wake of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's decision on Tuesday also not to seek the GOP nomination. Palin had been the last big-name holdout.
In her interview on Fox News, Palin sought to buck up the current presidential field, which some Republicans say still sorely lacks a dynamic figure whom everyone in the party can unite behind.
"There is no one perfect candidate, and I want people to keep that in mind, and not be extremely disappointed in a politician. A politician is going to let you down," she said. "They are going to make decisions you don't entirely agree with, and you can't just lose hope in what that politician's ideas represent ... We've got to not just put all of our faith in an individual or we will be sorely disappointed."
Palin eagerly fulfilled the task of king- and queen-maker in the 2010 election cycle. She bestowed an affectionate nickname on some of the female candidates she endorsed -- “mama grizzlies.” She compiled a winning record with her endorsements; Palin-endorsed candidates won seven of the nine competitive Senate primary races, seven of the 13 House primaries and six of the nine governors’ primaries.
One question now is whether some of those candidates will supplant Palin as successful visible faces of the far right. Among those most prominently mentioned are South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.
For all of its hype, Palin's decision not to run is far from shocking. A Palin candidacy had long been called a lose-lose for the former Alaska governor, who since resigning from that post has established a lucrative career as a Fox News commentator, a best-selling author (with her autobiography Going Rogue), and the subject of TLC’s “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.” Her average gross income from these projects has been estimated to be at least $5 million per year; had she run, she presumably would have been forced to forfeit her Fox News contract, as Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum had to upon declaring their candidacies.
Still, as a non-candidate, Palin’s commodity value diminishes. Longtime Republican consultant Ron Bonjean called Palin’s situation “an outstanding business model.”
“She’s been able to harness the enthusiasm of tea partiers and feed off her media celebrity, which was helping her bottom line,” Bonjean said. “But her bank account’s certainly been advantaged as long as she’s been able to keep people interested in her candidacy by flirting with the possibility that she’ll run.”
In a Fox News interview in late September, Palin questioned whether a run would even be “worth it.” Pundits interpreted the remark as pre-emptive cover for the anticipated backlash from supporters angry that she had strung them along.
Still, the path to a Palin nomination would have been uphill. Despite her ardent following among conservatives, the public at large has shown little appetite for her candidacy. In a Washington Post/ABC News poll this week, just 31 percent of GOP primary voters said they wanted Palin to run, while 66 percent said she shouldn’t get into the race.
Other recent polls have shown her in fourth, fifth or sixth place, with her support levels ranging from 7 to 10 percent.
Her persona, still suffering from frequent digs on late-night talk shows and embarrassing gaffes on national TV, remains polarizing. Most recently, veteran political journalist Joe McGinniss’ book on Palin, The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin painted an extremely unflattering portrait of her – so much so that some news organizations that have been critical of Palin rushed to her defense in dismissing it as one-sided and salacious.
And as a candidate, Palin would have had to prove her fundraising prowess. The six-month financial disclosure statement released over the summer for SarahPAC, the political action committee she formed in February 2009, showed that she had raised just $1.658 million between January and the end of June.
Palin's protracted flirtation with running was carried out in public. When asked on Fox News in February 2010 if she would consider the idea, she replied, “I would be willing to if I believe that it's right for the country.” Nine months later, she said she was still considering the idea in spite of the unwanted attention that she said the “lamestream media” was focusing on his personal life.
She reiterated on Fox again in August 2011 that she had “that fire in the belly” to seek the Republican nomination, but that “the impact on family” was holding her back. Analysts said that she had done none of the political organization-building necessary to launch a candidacy, and that conservatives such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann had usurped some of her appeal among the tea party faithful.
"Governor Palin is a dear friend of mine and I think the world of her," Bachmann said in reacting to Palin's decision. "She has been a strong voice for the conservative movement. She has a lifetime of opportunities ahead of her."
Meanwhile, some irritated Republicans openly criticized Palin’s attention-grabbing habit of appearing in key primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire without making her intentions clear.
“It is a sign of enormous thin skin that if we speculate about her, she gets upset,” former George W. Bush strategist Karl Rove said on Fox News. “I suspect if we didn’t speculate about her she’d be upset – and try and find a way to get us to speculate about her.”
It was not the first time that Palin had drawn criticism from within her party. During the 2008 presidential campaign, aides to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., were known to often express displeasure with her stubborn, go-it-alone ways. And for all of the excitement she brought to that race for conservatives, there is evidence that her presence on the ticket hurt rather than helped McCain. University of Pennsylvania political scientists Richard Johnston and Emily Thornton released a study in 2009 that showed the decline in her favorability corresponded sharply with the drop in McCain’s polling numbers.