Palin Changes Race With Decision Not to Run

Palin Ends Speculation, Raising Stakes for GOP Top Tier

"I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant, that plant kills people.”

-- Then-Gov. Mitt Romney, quoted in today’s Wall Street Journal, speaking outside a Massachusetts coal-fired power plant in 2003.

Sarah Palin has said she is not running for president, and has rung the bell for round two of the GOP nomination fight.

With Palin staying out, there are no more what ifs to be considered. The only other Republican with the national name recognition and fundraising ability to even consider a run is Rudy Giuliani. And the social moderate from the Northeast could impair frontrunner Mitt Romney but not win the nomination himself.

There is no one else coming to the party and Palin’s message in announcing her decision was clear: It’s time for her fellow Republicans to get serious about the process. "There is not one perfect candidate," she said “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.”

There were other signs that the decisive phase had begun before Palin’s announcement. Chris Christie said he was out… again. The ballot filing deadlines begin in less than two weeks. The new fundraising quarter is underway. The Obama campaign is sharpening its attacks.

The first nominating contest looks increasingly likely to be held in 86 days, but we now know that whatever specific dates Iowa and New Hampshire select, the polls will be open in about three months. (Note that rather than looking to cement his poll surge with early state voters, Herman Cain is on a nationwide book tour.)

It’s way too late to say it’s early, and Palin’s announcement reflected that reality. Palin might have been the reverse Giuliani, crippling the hopes of fellow evangelical conservative Texas Gov. Rick Perry, but launching at this late date would have been an unlikely avenue to success.

This new phase is one of great opportunity but also increased danger for frontrunner Romney. As Republicans get down to brass tacks, the substantial pool of undecided voters (still 14 percent in the latest FOX News poll) will start to make their choices. Since Romney is unlikely to pull much from the more conservative candidates in the field, he benefits by being on top at the moment when the late deciders choose.

If Romney pulled half of the undecideds, he would move from having a quarter of the national GOP electorate to a third. As long as the field remains at least somewhat divided, one third should be enough.

But, as Romney looks increasingly like the inevitable nominee, the scrutiny is increasing. Today’s Wall Street Journal has a brutal piece on Romney’s environmental record in Massachusetts that tracks his journey from clean-air crusader to cap-and-trade foe. “The Daily Show” put together a stinging succession of Romney policy changes on abortion, gay rights, health legislation and more.

Before now, Romney was old news, which was good. If he really is the GOP guy, though, the questions will get harder and things that seemed like settled issues will take on new relevancy.

Romney has improved dramatically as a candidate since his 2008 bid. He’s a far better debater and much looser on the stump. He has also built a well-funded, highly effective national campaign that has been designed to survive stormy seas.

This phase, though, will test the supposition that he is built to last. Perry has one last chance to show conservatives that he’s up to the job, which is why Romney has stayed on the attack against him despite the Texan’s slide in the polls.

But the good news for Romney is that if he just survives for another six weeks or so, he will have completed a remarkable political comeback and be the GOP nominee.

Poll Check: Obama Meets The Press in a Weakened Condition

“Things are just really great. The debt ceiling was no problem. The business community loves us and they love the rhetoric. No problem.”

-- A sarcastic retort from White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley at the Aspen Institute’s Washington Ideas Forum.

President Obama will face a tough crowd for a morning press conference today – his first since July. He’s got lots of issues to mop up, including unanswered questions of a troika of scandals dogging his administration, but his biggest problem is that reporters can smell blood.

There’s nothing like popularity to keep the White House press on good behavior, and nothing like the perception of weakness to bring out the long knives.

The president will be able to use campaign trail talking points to address one major issue facing his presidency – Democratic disinterest in his stimulus and tax increase proposal – but will likely struggle to answer pointed questions about Solyndra, Fast and Furious and Lightsquared.

Given the increasing questions about what he, Attorney General Eric Holder and other cabinet-level officials knew about these controversies and when they knew it, Obama is unlikely to be asked again what has “enchanted [him] most about serving in this office.”

Popular Obama got softball questions. Unpopular Obama will get stingers. Popular Obama held prime-time press conferences as national discussions. Unpopular Obama holds midday events in hopes of minimizing the number of viewers.

In today’s Quinnipiac University poll release, 81 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the direction of the nation, as high as the levels reached during the darkest weeks of the Panic of 2008.

Disapproval for the president’s job performance has reached a new high of 55 percent as his job approval ticked down one point to a new low of 41 percent. Obama no longer enjoys majority approval from any demographic group except black voters in the poll. At least half of all of the other key groups in the Obama coalition -- young voters, Hispanics and women – disapprove of the job Obama is doing.

Most alarming for Democrats and the Obama campaign is that a little more than a year away from the election, independent voters disapprove of the president’s performance 56 percent to 38 percent, a trend line that sets up the kind of backlash Democrats saw in 2010. Sixty nine percent of independents disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy.

Respondents said that both Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney would do better on the economy, with Romney opening a 10-point advantage. Sixty seven percent said that the economy would either worsen or stay the same if Obama were re-elected – not a good sign when 77 percent say we are in a recession and only 11 percent have a positive outlook for the direction of the economy.

Even on foreign policy, Obama can’t catch a break. After the killing of American-born terrorist Anwar al-Alawki, Obama saw no uptick in his handling of foreign policy, which clocked in at 44 percent, the same as it was a month ago.

The president is trying to embrace the idea of underdog status. He certainly has the numbers to back it up.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“The defense that Justice now plays up, the one of the spokesman said of [Attorney General Eric Holder’s knowledge of the Fast and Furious gun sting] today: ‘He was unaware, but he was speaking of the irregularities in the program.’ But that is not the question that was asked of him. He was asked about whether he knew anything about the program. His answer was no. It clearly isn't so.

So I think in the end he will have to claim incompetence, hadn't read it, hadn't remembered: ‘You get a lot of memos as attorney general, you might skim some.’ Hell of a defense if you are the attorney general of the United States and repeat offender on the inadequacy charge."

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”