Mama Grizzly Comes to New York—But Is She Eating GOP’s Young?

Those are the qualities most valued in Palin-Land, and Mr. Glassner is not the kind of flashy hire likely to push her toward a presidential bid.

“I think Mike’s style is that of an individual who gives his advice and suggests certain things, but fundamentally understands that the principal is the one who ultimately makes the decisions,” Mr. Lacy said.

On Thursday, the principal downplayed Mr. Glassner’s new role.

“Just in the past couple weeks, we’ve just been so doggone busy, Todd has said, ‘Look, I do have a couple things that I need to do,’ with his businesses and the things that he does,” Ms. Palin said. “So we hired a chief of staff for practical, logistical reasons, and it’s been heavenly to have someone besides Todd to help me out with everything we’re undertaking.”

What exactly Ms. Palin is undertaking is likely to remain unclear for quite some time.

She told the crowd in Woodbury about the irreplaceable importance of hitting the hustings and pressing the flesh, but she has yet to make any notable advances on the early states, preferring to communicate with potential primary voters from her perch at Fox News.

Asked about the possibility of mounting a very unconventional campaign, Ms. Palin said: “That’s what going rogue is all about.”

And some believe she may not need the kind of titanic infrastructure that has always been required in the past.

“These presidential campaigns and primaries are huge,” said a longtime adviser to several national Republican campaigns. “They are battleships that have to be built. But she may very well teach us they are no longer battleships, they could be an army of PT vessels or something, with equal effect. We’ve yet to know.”

The obsessive interest in her plans gives her an outsize platform on Facebook and Twitter, which allows her to continue her quasi-campaign without mounting an actual one.

“She’s got a built-in constituency in the party that no one else has,” said Mr. Baker, the political science professor. “Therefore, she has flexibility that none of them have. They ultimately really have to declare, whereas she can waltz in at a later time. She’s able to build up her 401(k) pretty impressively, and then I guess when she’s satisfied that she’s had enough, she can switch to the other track.”

Ms. Palin overstayed her one-hour contract, and answered questions for nearly 75 minutes.

She rose to loud applause and ducked behind the blue curtain at the back of the room. A tabloid reporter tried to chase Bristol through the departing crowd, but to no avail. (Ms. Palin had said they needed to get home to help Todd prepare for the world’s longest snow-machine race.)

“I think she does better in person than on TV, and I watch Fox News a lot,” said Helen Villacampa, a 77-year-old from Baldwin, who was waiting in the lobby for her ride. Ms. Villacampa had paid $350 to see Ms. Palin after reading about the event in Newsday.

“I don’t want to see it on TV because you’ve got monitors and things like that,” she explained. “She spoke without any of that. And after seeing that, I will vote for her. And she better run. Period.”

That kind of unqualified support has put even blue-state politicians in an awkward spot. Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy smiled broadly as reporters rushed to get his reaction to Ms. Palin’s remarks.

“She’s certainly a compelling figure; whether you agree or disagree with Sarah Palin the governor, she is quite a force in American politics today,” said Mr. Levy, a former Democrat who is now eyeing higher office as a Republican.

For New York’s semi-hopeful presidential candidates, the challenge is to distinguish themselves without alienating Ms. Palin’s supporters.

Former governor George Pataki–a classic Republican moderate who tried to make in-roads with the Tea Party crowd through his anti-“Obamacare” Revere America organization–has joked that Peekskill is twice the size of Wasilla, but has also said he could “certainly” support her.

“It was hard for me to support Carl Paladino, and I did that,” Mr. Pataki said in November.

(Two weeks ago, another contender, Rick Santorum, had tried to offer some slightly pointed criticism, only to be dragged through the news cycle as a “knuckle-dragging Neanderthal” when she responded on Sean Hannity’s show.)

“It’s no surprise that other potential candidates genuflect her way at every opportunity and shy away from any criticism,” said Mark McKinnon, a former McCain adviser who called her the “X” factor in a primary, whether she enters or not.

In January, Rudy Giuliani, without being critical, tried to draw a contrast when asked whether he’d be more likely to run if Ms. Palin didn’t.

“Maybe the opposite,” he told CNN’s Piers Morgan, “because my one chance, if I have a chance, is that I’m considered a moderate Republican, so the more Republicans in which I can show a contrast, probably the better chance I have.”

(“I don’t know what he means by that,” Ms. Palin responded when asked about it. “I’m going to have to ask him.”)

But even that kind of answer can be problematic. “If that’s what Rudy Giuliani needs to make him jump into the race, that’s the wrong reason,” said Joseph Sawicki, the Republican comptroller of Suffolk County, who attended the event.

She left Long Island without giving the political class any better sense of whether she might actually enter the race, save, perhaps, for one subtle hint that she might be back, sometime in the future, to spend more time in the Empire State.

“I said, ‘Listen, let me give you a tip,'” Mr. Law said he told her just before she climbed back into her black SUV. “‘The next time you come to Long Island, you’ve got to come with the nice weather,'” recommending the summer, when the beaches are nice.

“She just smiled and said, ‘I’ll take you up on that.'”

rpillifant@observer.com