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Saving Sarah Palin? Movie to debut in Iowa next month spurs talk of White House bid

May 25, 2011|By James Oliphant | Washington Bureau
(Jonathan Ernst / Reuters )

A feature-film-length documentary on Sarah Palin’s political career will debut in Iowa next month, reviving speculation that the former Alaska governor could jump into the 2012 presidential race after all.

According to the political news website RealClearPolitics, which broke the story, Palin approached conservative filmmaker Stephen Bannon to commission a series of documentaries about her rise to power in Alaska. Bannon, the story said, went one step further, saying he would instead produce a feature film, one that presents Palin in a highly favorable light, and finance it himself to the tune of $1 million.

Palin has seemed disinterested in a presidential run and has done little to build a national network or chase donors. But the film -- and the choice of an Iowa premiere -- appears to be a concerted effort to reinject herself into the mix, as well as an attempt to refurbish her sinking political reputation.

Polls have consistently shown Palin’s approval numbers dropping and her negatives rising since she decided to abandon her governorship before the end of her first term in office. She was heavily criticized earlier this year for her outspoken defense of her politics in the wake of the Tucson shootings. 

Rather than concentrate on building a nationwide campaign network, she has largely served as commentator on Fox News Channel, an author, a reality TV show host and a public speaker, while other outsized personalities, such as Donald Trump, have eclipsed her on the media stage.

The film, titled “The Undefeated,” would appear to be part of a quest to reclaim some of her lost star power while also reminding viewers of her well-received early years as governor, when she took on entrenched interests and fellow Republicans.

Bannon told RealClearPolitics that he intends to show the film in the early primary states of New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. Recent surveys have shown that Palin has some work to do in those states.

An American Research Poll in April had Palin as the choice of just 4% of those who said they would be taking part in Iowa's GOP caucuses, a key early test in the race for the White House.  But a Public Policy Poll was kinder -- and indicated that without Trump and Mike Huckabee in the race, Palin would run second behind Mitt Romney in the state. Iowans surveyed said they still had a highly favorable opinion of her as well.

But Palin runs the danger of being supplanted in Iowa by Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, another telegenic conservative firebrand.

In New Hampshire, site of the first-in-nation-presidential primary, a CNN/WMUR poll released this week showed Palin as the choice of just 5% of respondents, despite her high name recognition.

But events of late have seemed to break Palin’s way. Huckabee, a prospective competitor for the support of Christian conservatives, said he would stay out of the race. Trump, along with the airtime he was commanding in the media, did the same. And Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, another potential candidate with possible appeal to fiscal conservatives, said he too would forgo a run.

All of this has left some conservatives hungry for another option -- and Palin could be planning a late-stage appeal, a scenario that she herself has put forth in the past. Given her celebrity, she may not have to do much of the retail politicking that lesser-known lights such as ex-Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is counting heavily on success in Iowa, must engage in.

But Palin being Palin, controversy lies behind every corner. This week, a former aide, Frank Bailey, released a book, "Blind Allegiance," about Palin’s time in Alaska, in which the then-governor is portrayed as power-hungry, vindictive and disinterested in the day-to-day responsibilities of office.

Despite the best efforts of those involved, it’s likely the Bannon film will end up being as divisive as anything regarding Palin. But the question will be whether it can persuade voters to give her another look.

james.oliphant@latimes.com

Here’s an interview with Bailey, conducted by CNN:



  

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