WASHINGTON (AP) — Sarah Palin has had a sliding spring.
Her support among Republicans has shrunk. She's kept an uncharacteristically low profile. And there's no evidence that she's anywhere close to announcing whether she will run for president.
But it's clear she still wants to be part of the conversation.
After weeks of seemingly staying on the sidelines, the GOP's 2008 vice presidential nominee is back with public appearances, fiery criticism of President Barack Obama and a strong defense of Donald Trump, the reality TV show host who has raised questions about the president's background without offering any proof of his assertions.
"What the heck is wrong with asking the president of the United States to disclose what his college thesis was, what some of the Harvard Law Review papers were that he wrote?" Palin said last week, adding her voice to a Trump-led chorus of critics questioning just how much the country knows about its president.
She added: "Here's a point with Donald Trump, though, which I hope that he will seize this opportunity: Right now, he's got the spotlight, he's got the megaphone. Now is his opportunity to really force a shift in debate and discussion in this country."
Palin used to be able to say that about herself. But she's recently been overshadowed by other Republicans who have taken steps toward the White House or are weighing bids, Trump included.
Privately, people in her informal and fluid circle of advisers say that they have no sense whether Palin will run for the GOP nomination or if she does, when she would begin a campaign. They say she's asking questions about a potential White House run and will decide in her own time. The door to a candidacy, they say, is still open.
Yet, Palin, who abruptly resigned the Alaska governor's office before finishing her first term, doesn't seem to be doing the spadework others are as they consider running.
She hasn't set up campaign organizations in Iowa, New Hampshire or other early nominating states. Her political travel seems haphazard and lacking the pattern of most contenders. For example, she hasn't been to New Hampshire since 2008, but she rallied tea party activists in Wisconsin as Gov. Scott Walker pushed a bill that weakened public unions' bargaining rights.
And recently her standing has dropped in polls.
An Associated Press-GfK survey from late-March found 57 percent of adults holding an unfavorable view of her. And the survey marked her worst rating yet among Republicans. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans view her favorably but that number is down from 79 percent in November 2010.
Her favorability dips to just 38 percent among the four in 10 Republicans who don't support the tea party. Among those Republicans who do support it, 79 percent say they hold a positive view of Palin.
Even so, she's making sure her voice is heard, including in high-profile public appearances.
She was to give a speech Saturday in a Washington suburb at a closed-door, $250-a-plate fundraiser for an anti-abortion organization. And on Monday, she is to appear at a $15-a-person fundraiser for military families at Colorado Christian University. She's speaking at the same event as retired Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin, who has made controversial statements painting the war on terror as a Christian fight against Satan and suggesting that Muslims worship idols.
Palin's also been firing up her conservative base on Fox News Channel, where she is a paid contributor, and in other interviews by scorning Obama. Recently, she:
—Invoked 1960s-era radical William Ayers, a one-time member of the Weather Underground organization, which bombed federal buildings in protest of the Vietnam War, with whom Obama worked on community projects in Chicago decades later. She suggested Ayers wrote Obama's memoirs — though offered no evidence.
—Tweaked Obama on his off-hours hobbies: "I know, I know, granted you will be even busier very soon. After all, golf season kicks into high gear shortly. NBA and NHL brackets await. Summer vacations and that all-consuming campaign whistle stop tour will no doubt slam you," she posted on Facebook.
—Summarized Obama's energy policy as "outright bonkers."
So, for now at least, she's ensuring she's part of the political discourse. The answer to whether she becomes part of the presidential race, itself, will come later.
AP Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta in Washington and Associated Press writer Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska, contributed to this report.
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