by Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 (Xinhua) -- Sarah Palin was barely a blip on the political radar until she emerged as the running mate for 2008 U.S. presidential candidate John McCain.
Since then, she has gained a following among conservative Republicans, and while she hasn't officially announced any plans to run for president in 2012, her efforts to remain in the public eye seem geared toward that end.
If she did run, however, the question remains of whether she could secure the Republican nomination. And more importantly, there is the question of whether she could become the first female U.S. president, beating President Barack Obama, who is likely to be renominated as the Democratic candidate, in a head-to-head battle.
That seems a tall order, according to some experts and polls.
"PRESIDENT PALIN" -- AN UNLIKELY TITLE
Indeed, a Washington Post-ABC poll published on Friday found that a mere 8 percent of voters said they would definitely vote for Palin in a presidential race, versus 60 percent of respondents who said they definitely would not.
Clay Ramsay, research director at the Center on Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, said Palin's chances of winning enough primaries to stay in the game are about 50-50, adding any success beyond such a point is well below that figure.
To win the presidency, Palin would have to climb over three rungs: the primaries, the Republican National Convention, and a general election.
The former governor of Alaska would probably win a few primaries here and there, although her odds of making it through a convention are significantly lower, he said.
And while she has already been through a national campaign in which she showed signs of being her own woman, she also demonstrated a reluctance to accept schooling from professionals, some analysts noted.
Dan Mahaffee, special assistant to the president at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, said one scenario in which Palin could win the primaries would be to mirror former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee's 2008 strategy, which was to drum up a coalition of grass roots conservatives and Evangelicals.
Palin would also have to look toward particular geographic regions for support. Being a right-of-center candidate, she would not likely do well in many of the states that lean left. That means she would have to look to more conservative states in an effort to build such a coalition, he said.
In any case, there are certain contenders she could defeat in a one-on-one standoff, such as former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who has dropped hints in recent weeks that he seeks to run but has made no formal announcement.
"Newt Gingrich has a long past, he has a long and awkward record. There are 20 years of video tape to play. Sarah Palin is still a comparatively fresh face," Ramsay said.
Still, there are a number of possibilities for the 2012 Republican ticket, and Gingrich said earlier this month that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is the front-runner.
"Structurally, Romney's the front-runner, and in popularity, probably Huckabee's the front-runner," Gingrich said on "Fox News Sunday."
"Palin is a phenomenon in her own right," Gingrich said.
Mahaffee said the economy would have to remain weak for Palin to win, and other experts noted that Obama's sliding popularity is because of the frail U.S. economy.
She would also have to demonstrate a deeper knowledge of the issues than she has thus far. Indeed, since her arrival on the national scene, critics have derided her as having little knowledge of foreign and other policies.