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LI dinner has Sarah Palin watchers eyeing her next campaign

Since the end of her vice presidential campaign, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin hasn't been seen much south of Alaska.

But as she prepares for a St. James speech Sunday night at an event for disabled children, the 2008 Republican nominee has done nothing to quell speculation that she's interested in another run for national office.

"She's definitely a player," said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who plans to attend Sunday night's event. "She has a real strong base of support."

Palin, 45, has refused most national media interviews and an invitation from Fox News Channel to attend the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner. She hasn't begun courting GOP heavy hitters in key early-voting states in the presidential primaries.

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"In terms of her national visibility, she doesn't care that much," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a group that supports female anti-abortion candidates.

While staying at home, Palin appears to be laying the groundwork for a second act on the national stage. In April, she spoke to a major anti-abortion gathering in Indiana. In May, she signed a deal for a book due to be published next spring.

It remains to be seen whether Palin, who will go to the voters for re-election in 2010, can convert her following into a significant political force.

Dannenfelser said there are 70,000 members of Team Sarah, a Palin-centric, members-only social networking site she operates, and Palin sits near the top of early polls of the 2012 GOP presidential field.

But Palin has made no inroads in Iowa or New Hampshire, two early-voting states critical to a presidential campaign.

"We've seen zero signs of activity from Gov. Palin or anyone associated with her organization," Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn said.

Fergus Cullen, a former New Hampshire GOP chairman, said he contacted Palin's people in January with an invite to speak at a state dinner. No thanks, they said.

Nassau County Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs said the nation's first impressions of Palin - such as her stumbling interview with Katie Couric and impersonations by actress Tina Fey on "Saturday Night Live" - were so damaging she cannot recover.

"There's just way too much baggage with her and I think that she's not taken seriously by the overwhelmingly majority of the electorate," Jacobs said. "It may not be her fault."

But Republicans said those first impressions are at once Palin's strongest and weakest qualities. "No one gets higher positives and higher negatives than Sarah Palin," King said.

In New Hampshire, where voters take stock of candidates up close in town halls and living rooms, Palin's celebrity gives her an in but may not help earn support. Rudy Giuliani led the state's GOP polls throughout 2007 before he was eventually lapped by John McCain.

"People here don't feel that they got to take the measure of her personally in the last campaign the way they'd expect to before giving her support in 2012," Cullen said.

King said Palin will need to develop the "gravitas" on foreign affairs issues before she launches another national campaign. He urged her to "start getting more active" if she is serious about a presidential campaign.

Dannenfelser said Palin still has time to announce whatever she plans to do. After all, she said, no other GOP contender has anything like her rabid following.

"Anything she wants," Dannenfelser said, "she says the word and they do it."

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