Chris Christie isn't running for president but says he's listening to those who want him to. Donald Trump opted out of a bid for the Republican nomination but hasn't ruled out running as an independent. Rudy Giuliani's aides are courting New Hampshire activists. And Sarah Palin says she'll decide soon whether to join the field, even as she worries the White House might be "too shackling."
Welcome to The Big Tease, when political stars stoke the hopes of supporters by hinting they just might join the presidential fray.
A few do succumb to the temptation _ most recently Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who joined the GOP field in August after months of insisting absolutely he had no interest. Others milk their moment in the spotlight, boosting their national stature, broadening their fundraising base and laying the foundation for a possible future run.
It happens in many presidential years. Democrats swooned, for a while, for New York Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1992; there was a Gen. Wesley Clark boomlet in 2004 and a drumbeat around former Republican Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee in 2008.
Cuomo stayed out, but his prolonged indecision earned him the nickname Hamlet on the Hudson. Clark and Thompson both jumped in late, only to flame out quickly.
Perry, for his part, has already learned the perils of a late entry.
After joining the race with great fanfare and rocketing to the top of the polls, Perry's shaky performance in two nationally televised debates have left many GOP activists worried he isn't prepared to be the party's standard-bearer against President Barack Obama. But many also remain skeptical of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He's had a relatively smooth run this time after losing the nomination in 2008, but he still hasn't fired up much passionate support.
All of which explains why Christie mania was at full boil Tuesday, when the New Jersey governor delivered a long-planned speech at the Reagan Presidential Library in California.
He turned in a stinging indictment of both parties' leadership in Washington. And while he restated his refusal to enter the race, he told a woman begging him to reconsider that he was "touched" by her plea.
"The reason has to reside inside me," he said. "My answer to you is just this: I take it in, and I'm listening to every word of it and I feel it."
Giuliani, the former New York mayor, dispatched a key emissary to New Hampshire Wednesday to gauge interest among top Republicans.
One of the mayor's closest political advisers, Jake Menges, hosted private meetings with members of the Granite State congressional delegation, Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, likely gubernatorial candidate Kevin Smith and GOP activist Stephen Talarico, owner of Manchester Harley-Davidson.
"Jake said to me, `Just keep your powder dry for another few weeks,'" Talarico said.
Palin, the former Alaska governor who was the GOP vice-presidential nominee in 2008, was also pressed on her presidential ambitions Tuesday in an interview on Fox News. She said _ again _ she hadn't made a decision but did indicate she had concerns about going forward.
"Is a title worth it? Does a title shackle a person?" Palin asked. "Are they _ someone like me, maverick, you know, I do go rogue, and I call it like I see it, and I don't mind stirring it up. ... Is a title and is a campaign too shackling?"
Ari Fleischer, a former press secretary for President George W. Bush, said it's "plain and simple too late" for anyone to join the GOP field. But he said different candidates have different reasons for keeping the speculation alive.
"Chris Christie has a future and needs to be protective of his future. All this interest helps him raise money for Republican candidates and enjoy one last flirtation," Fleischer said. "Palin beats to a different drum, so this just keeps her in the game longer. She likes being the center of attention and the focus."
Palin may not be the only noncandidate who enjoys the attention. New Jersey's Christie said being asked to be the leader of the free world is an ego-feed.
"What kind of crazy egomaniac would you have to be to say, `Ugh, please stop'? New Jersey's Christie asked a fundraising audience. "It's extraordinarily flattering."
Associated Press reporter Steve Peoples in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.