Steve Chapman

It turns out Sarah Palin left the governorship of Alaska for a better position. She's become king -- King Midas, to be exact. Everything she touches turns to gold.

Her memoir, "Going Rogue," was the best-selling hardcover nonfiction volume of 2009. She's got a TV gig with Fox News that reportedly pays $1 million a year. She commands $100,000 for a speaking appearance.

But it's not all about the money. Palin has also become the fairy godmother of the Republican Party. In the Aug. 31 primaries, all five candidates she tapped with her wand came away victorious -- including Joe Miller, who upset incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Those she passed over turned into pumpkins.

"Sarah Palin has special medicine," wrote John Dickerson of the liberal online magazine Slate after the primaries. "The Palin brand now grows ever stronger because other Republicans will want to access that magic."

All that looks like the perfect prelude to something even bigger. After steadfastly refusing invitations for political gatherings in Iowa, site of the first presidential contest in 2012, she's going to Des Moines Sept. 17 for the Republican Party's annual Reagan Day dinner. To run for president, one local GOP official was quoted saying, "she needs to be here -- and she's doing that with a big, high-profile event."

If she enters the race, Palin will have the inside track. A recent Gallup poll found that among Republican voters, she's more popular than Abraham Lincoln, with a 76 percent favorable rating -- higher than any other potential GOP presidential candidate listed by Gallup. The nomination is starting to look like it's hers for the asking.

But appearances are deceiving. Palin would more likely be one of those outwardly formidable candidates whose campaigns peak on the day they announce. The qualities that have made her a media star threaten to make her a dismal candidate.

It's obvious that Palin would have serious weaknesses in a general election campaign, starting with her raging unpopularity among swing voters. In a new Harris Poll, 47 percent of independents say an endorsement from President Obama would make them less likely to vote for a candidate -- but 62 percent would be put off by a Palin blessing.

What is overlooked is that she would have big handicaps in a Republican presidential contest as well. Palin has made her name railing against Obama, congressional Democrats, mosque-builders, the news media and other conservative targets. In a GOP primary, those positions would make her stand out about like one Cheerio stands out from the others. So other considerations -- competence, experience, temperament, judgment, electability -- would dominate, not to her advantage.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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