By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
Sill one of the biggest wild cards of the 2012 field, Sarah Palin has offered little in the way of clues about her 2012 presidential ambitions over the past few months. But voters are providing some hints of their own about how they view her, and the news is not particularly good for the former Alaska governor.
According to fresh numbers from a new ABC News/Washington Post poll out this week, Palin’s favorability rating among members of her own party has fallen to a new low. Not only that, but negative views of Palin are much higher than those of other possible Republican presidential candidates. http://abcn.ws/fWHqlu
Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 37 percent see Palin unfavorably, exceeding former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s unfavorable rating by 11 points, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s by 16 points and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s by 19 points.
Keep in mind, Palin enjoyed an all-time high in favorability of 88 percent at the time Sen. John McCain selected her as his running mate in 2008. Since then, her favorable number has dipped 30 points to 58 percent.
“The results,” according to ABC News’ polling analyst Gary Langer, “indicate continued challenges for Palin in public opinion. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll in December, 59 percent of Americans said they would not consider voting for her for president (including 36 percent of leaned Republicans); Barack Obama led her in general election preferences by a 15-point margin. Last fall, moreover, 67 percent described her as unqualified for the position, including 49 percent of leaned Republicans.”
But Palin is continuing to try to keep herself in the mix, albeit mostly through packaged Fox News interviews, Twitter updated and with targeted messages posted to her Facebook page like the one she wrote last night accusing President Obama of pursuing a “war on domestic oil and gas exploration and production.”
As ABC News’ John Berman notes, Palin labeled Obama the “$4-per-gallon president,” writing: “The evidence of the president’s anti-drilling mentality and his culpability in the high gas prices hurting Americans is there for all to see.” She criticizes the Obama administration-backed drilling moratorium following the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the proposed elimination of tax incentives for certain types of exploration, and what she calls his “anti-drilling regulatory policies.” http://abcn.ws/fuerq9
She did not use the opportunity to offer her views on nuclear energy, a subject that another potential candidate, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, addressed head on in a speech to Iowa Republicans last night, but instead asserted, “Energy is the building block of our economy. The president is purposely weakening that building block and weakening our country.” She ended by saying, “2012 can’t come soon enough.”
And many presidential watchers are wondering, what happens then? By all accounts, Palin has done little to begin forming a campaign apparatus like many of the other still-undeclared presidential contenders have, nor has she taken the time to begin courting voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and other crucial early states. Palin, instead, is heading much further afield. She travels to India this week to deliver a keynote speech on Mar. 19 at the India Today Conclave.
2012 WATCH: BARBOUR ON ENERGY. “The United States needs to rely more on nuclear power despite the escalating disaster in Japan, Haley Barbour told an audience of Iowa Republicans Monday night,” Politico’s Kasie Hunt reports from Davenport, Iowa. “‘There are many people, including me, who believe that it behooves us to increase that percentage [of nuclear power] so that other fuels can be used for other purposes," Barbour said. "We don't know what happened in Japan. We need to study and learn and make sure that we continue to have safe reliable clean nuclear energy in the United States.’ … ‘There is a lot of dramatization that may or may not be accurate,’ he told reporters after finishing his speech here to county activists and GOP leaders, adding, ‘There may be some lessons that we need to learn" from the Japanese disaster.’” http://politi.co/hPxu6D
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Rick Klein and Jonathan Karl interview Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., whose amendment that called on Congress to accept that human-caused climate change is occurring, was rejected by the House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday. Also on the show: Andy Katz, a senior college basketball writer for ESPN talks about filling out brackets with President Obama. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
TOP LINE REPLAY: JEFF BINGAMAN. The Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee and New Mexico Democrat told “Top Line” yesterday that the U.S. should continue to pursue new nuclear power options. “Clearly we need to be sure that the design that we are using in our power plants is the very best and the safest design. And whatever changes we need to make to those designs or to the regulations of those plants we need to make. But I'm not persuaded that nuclear power should be deleted from the list of options that we look at” Bingaman said.
“Top Line” also heard from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, who took the opposite stance yesterday. “I never thought it was a good option, well before the horrendous situation in Japan,” Sanders, I-Vt., said. Sanders also spoke about social security: “I get a little bit disturbed when I hear folks going on the floor of the Senate or in the media talking about Social Security is going broke,” he said. “’We have to reduce benefits, we have to privatize it, we have to raise the retirement age.’ That is all total nonsense.” http://abcn.ws/e1lWDi (h/t ABC News’ Kristina Bergess)
JAPAN UPDATE. “Work to stabilize the damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was temporarily halted early Wednesday because radiation leaking from the units made the situation unsafe, Japanese officials said,” ABC News’ David Muir, Jessica Hopper, Dean Schabner and Ben Forer report. “Several hours after work was halted, officials were preparing to return to work but it was unclear whether workers were able to enter the plant, the Associated Press reported. Radiation levels started to rise sharply after steam was seen escaping from unit 3 at the plant, which was damaged first by the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan Friday, and then by an explosion in the reactor.” Full coverage of the crisis in Japan from ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/International/Pacific_Disaster/
TED STRICKLAND: NEXT DNC CHAIR? “Top Democrats are eyeing former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland to replace DNC Chairman Tim Kaine atop the party should the former Virginia governor step down to run for the Senate,” Politico’s Jonathan Martin reports. “Two well-placed Democrats said that Strickland is seen as a strong contender for the job, but cautioned that no decisions have been made. That’s in part because Kaine himself has not yet definitively indicated that he will return to Virginia to run for the seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Jim Webb. But with senior DNC officials now saying publicly that Kaine is “increasingly likely” to pursue a bid, the chairman is now widely assumed to be all but gone and senior Democratic officials have begun discussing his replacement. Former aides to Strickland wouldn’t make him available for an interview, but indicated that he’s keeping his options open and has not made any long-term commitments.” http://politi.co/g9FCeN
RNC CONSIDERS SELLING TV RIGHTS TO DEBATES. “The Republican National Committee is considering sanctioning the GOP presidential primary debates and then selling the broadcast rights to news outlets,” CNN’s Mark Preston and Robert Yoon write. “The proposal was mentioned last week during a meeting of top RNC officials and a handful of political operatives representing potential GOP presidential candidates. In February, the RNC disclosed it was saddled with more than $22 million of debt left over from the 2010 midterm elections. At that time, newly elected Chairman Reince Priebus acknowledged the committee has ‘a lot of work to do’ to pay off its obligations so it can focus on raising money for the 2012 presidential election. It is unclear if it is legal for the RNC to sell the broadcasting rights or whether it would constitute a prohibited political contribution in the eyes of federal law. … Kirsten Kukowski, an RNC spokeswoman, confirmed that the issue was mentioned but added, ‘There isn't a proposal in front of the RNC to do that.’” http://bit.ly/h4TuyY
MORE CHALLENGES AHEAD ON SPENDING. “The House gave grudging approval on Tuesday to a plan to finance the federal government for three more weeks, even as dozens of Republicans broke with their leadership and opposed the stopgap legislation,” The New York Times’ Carl Hulse writes. “Congressional leaders said the measure, which imposes $6 billion in new spending cuts, would avert a government shutdown while giving Republicans and Democrats until April 8 to conclude a more sweeping budget deal to finance the government through Sept. 30. … Though the legislation had the strong support of Mr. Boehner and his top lieutenants, more than 50 members of the Republican rank-and-file opposed it, including 21 of the 87 Republican freshmen. … The defections suggest that the House leadership could have difficulty selling a final budget compromise to its membership if the plan dips very far below the $61 billion in cuts approved by the House and does not contain policy restrictions on abortion, the new health care law and environmental rules that many House Republicans favor.” http://nyti.ms/eFeM18
NOTED: ABC News’ John R. Parkinson takes a closer look at the 54 Republicans who bucked GOP leadership on the continuing resolution vote yesterday. They include 22 freshmen representatives -- many associated with the Tea Party movement. http://abcn.ws/eRAB2L
HOUSE GOP EDUCATION POINT MAN TO OBAMA: DON’T RUSH. “Rep. John Kline (Minn.), the House Republicans’ point man on education, has a blunt response to President Obama’s aggressive push for Congress to rewrite federal education law by August: Don’t rush me,” The Hill’s Russell Berman notes. “The new chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee sees election-year politics behind Obama’s hurry to overhaul the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind law, which Congress approved nearly a decade ago. ‘I’m very much aware that 2012 is a presidential election year and presidential politics will start to dominate what goes on around here,’ Kline told The Hill in an interview Tuesday in his Capitol Hill office. ‘So there is a little bit of urgency to move, but I’m not going to rush this and do it wrong.’” http://bit.ly/gcHJWz
P90X WORKOUT ALL THE RAGE ON THE HILL. “Congress's new Republican leaders want smaller government, less spending, lower taxes...and sculpted abs, bulging biceps and flexibility they never dreamed possible,” the Wall Street Journal’s Elizabeth Williamson and Patrick O’Connor write. “To achieve that second set of goals, a group gathers most days around two televisions in the House gym to follow a series of DVD workout routines known to late-night infomercial fans as P90X, the ‘most extreme home fitness training program.’ As have thousands of insomniac former couch potatoes, Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and a crew of young Republicans have taken to the P90X workout routines with an ideological intensity. For the lawmakers, it's a get-tough fitness dogma that mirrors their promises to pump up job growth and chisel away flabby federal programs. They may think like Gingrich and Reagan, but ‘we want to look like Tony,’ says P90X devotee Rep. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.). Tony Horton is the tanned, buff fitness guru who created P90X and leads the routines on the DVD. … Since the Republicans won control, Mr. Horton's been a household word in the House of Representatives.” http://on.wsj.com/fKXckl
WHITE HOUSE TODAY: President Obama will meet with USAID Administrator Raj Shah to "discuss USAID humanitarian assistance efforts including those in the Middle East, Africa, Haiti, Afghanistan and Pakistan and the disaster assistance being provided to the Japanese government as they respond to the recent major earthquake and tsunami,” ABC’s Sunlen Miller notes. Later in the afternoon, the President will accept an award from a coalition of good government groups and transparency advocates in conjunction with Sunshine Week, on transparency in government. In the evening, the President will deliver remarks at a DNC event in Washington, DC, his second fundraising event of the week. http://abcn.ws/hAk1ko
* Tim Pawlenty will deliver the keynote address at the Aiken Republican Club Luncheon Meeting in Aiken, South Carolina.
* Senator John Thune, R-SD, will attend a fundraiser for his Heartland Values PAC in Washington, D.C.
The Note Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV
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