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Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck in Alaska: testing the 2012 waters?

Neither Sarah Palin nor Glenn Beck is currently running for anything, but both are deftly navigating today's media landscape and having some success steering the national debate.

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“We have to see in the general election and in key races,” says Medvic of the effect Palin's endorsement will have on candidates. It has been a mixed blessing to date, with Palin-backed candidates losing in Kansas, Washington, Wyoming, and Georgia. But, he adds, “if some do well in the general election, then her stock can continue to rise.”

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Both Palin and Beck are in a wait-and-see mode, says Jerry Kremer, a 23-year veteran of the New York State Assembly and founder of Empire Government Strategies, a political consulting firm. “Beck is a work in progress, testing whether or not he has the power to influence the national debate,” he says. Palin “takes the oxygen out of every other candidate by her charisma,” he says. “She can take a walk around the block and get media coverage.”

The midterm elections will reveal what kind of base Palin would have to tap in a future presidential run, Mr. Kremer says, suggesting that her endorsements are like money in the bank. “Politicians are all about who owes who what,” he says, “and if the people she endorses win big, then she will have a wide net of people to tap when it comes to the necessary organizations to run a national campaign,” he says. "Right now, though," he says, "I don’t see her building the kind of foot soldiers that would involve.”

However, social media is a potent indicator, says Sherrie Madia, author of the upcoming book “Social Media Survival Guide for Political Campaigns.”

“If either or both plan to toss a hat in the ring, it's a hat that sits atop a well-established online presence,” she says via email. Madia points out that as of this writing, Beck has 1,444,451 fans on Facebook, to Palin's 2,209,729. In the Twittersphere, Palin has approximately 250,000 followers to Beck's 288,000-plus. Palin has a fundraising channel via www.SarahPAC.com. All this gives her more lead time than candidates still undecided who have not yet established this baseline.

“While quantity alone is never the end-game when it comes to social media, it certainly bodes well for any potential candidate to have established bandwith long before any official announcement is made,” she adds.

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