Stephan Savoia/AP
Former vice presidential candidate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin addresses a Tea Party Express Rally in Manchester, N.H., September 2011. Did Palin really endorse Newt Gingrich Tuesday night? We're not so sure.

Did Sarah Palin endorse Newt Gingrich or not?

A lot of media folks are leaping to the conclusion that Sarah Palin did endorse Newt Gingrich on a Fox News show Tuesday night, but we’re not so sure.

Did Sarah Palin really endorse Newt Gingrich Tuesday night on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show? A lot of folks in the "lame-stream media" are leaping to the conclusion that she did, but we’re not so sure.

Yes, Todd Palin has already said he’s backing the former speaker of the House. And when Mr. Hannity asked Ms. Palin if she would follow suit, the former Alaska governor said this: “If I had to vote in South Carolina, in order to keep this thing going, I’d vote for Newt.”

But the context is interesting here. First of all, Palin made it clear that what she really wants is for Mitt Romney to continue to have an array of conservative competition. The debates should keep going, she said, because “iron sharpens iron and steel sharpens steel.” More to the point, continuing competition would mean that maybe voters would get to examine the potential problems of potential nominees prior to the actual nomination.

“With the front-runner and with all the candidates, there are still too many questions,” said Palin, adding that these questions have to do with “their business dealings ... and their experience while serving in office.”

Does that sound like she thinks conservatives should keep looking into Mr. Romney’s experience at Bain Capital and his actions as Massachusetts governor? That’s what it sounds like to us, too.

“Front-runners and whoever it is have to have everything out there,” Palin said.

Palin did not mention Romney by name. But all the other non-Ron Paul candidates remaining in the race got a shout-out from John McCain’s 2008 veep choice. She had something good to say about all their performances in Monday night’s South Carolina debate.

Rick Perry must have had Texas chili and Dr Pepper from his home state prior to the debate, said Palin.

“Somebody must have been able to import it to him because he was on fire with some of those segments he participated in,” Palin told Hannity.

Rick Santorum? “Santorum, too, he had an opponent up on the ropes,” she said, without mentioning that that opponent might have been – you guessed it – Romney.

Palin was on for 10 minutes or so, and near the end, Hannity asked her directly whether she’d just endorsed Gingrich. She skittered around the question like, well, a politician.

“You know, I want that process to continue,” she repeated.

Our bottom line: Palin is pushing the guy she likes most, but wants to leave open her options to maybe swerve and go with somebody else if that somebody else looks like a better option.

She’s even leaving the door open a crack to a Romney endorsement. Asked if she’d back him if he were the nominee, she did not say no. She said, “I have said ... from the beginning, anybody but Obama.”

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