Will Palin Announce Presidential Bid at Tea Party Conference?

| Fri Feb. 11, 2011 10:41 AM EST

The Tea Party Patriots, arguably the nation's largest tea party umbrella group, is holding a "policy summit" in Phoenix at the end of the month to help educate tea partiers on various issues. Headlining the event will be potential GOP presidential contenders Herman Cain and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), right-wing provocateur Andrew Breitbart, talking heads Dick Morris and John Fund, and other conservative luminaries and elected officials. But lately the group has been floating rumors that Sarah Palin may show up at the confab to make an important announcement: that she's running for president.

Earlier this month, TPP started circulating emails with a prominent endorsement for their event from Palin, who says in the promo material that the summit "offers a terrific opportunity for true American Patriots to hear from experts on issues like lowering taxes, balancing the budget and repealing Obamacare." Then on Thursday, Everett Wilkinson, a TPP coordinator in Florida, wrote on his site Tea Party Wire, "I just heard a rumor that Sarah Palin is going to make a surprise visit and announcement" at the conference. He included a link to the registration page for the summit, and also circulated emails with the rumor to tea party activists.

Is this a "real" rumor—or just a crass marketing ploy designed to entice tea partiers to the $75 per-person gathering? It would not be the first time that a tea party group tried to capitalize on Palin's name recognition to boost attendance at a conference. Last year, Tea Party Nation, a Nashville-based group headed by Judson Philips, created a convention almost exclusively promoted around a speech by Palin, for which TPN paid her $100,000.

A spokesman for Tea Party Patriots says the group is not paying any of the speakers at its event (and that it didn't pay Palin for her endorsement of the summit). But the Internet rumor smacks of traffic-driving scheme, an attempt to generate interest and potentially donations for the summit, or at least traffic for Wilkinson's Tea Party Wire site. TPP is trying to raise a boatload of money to pull off the event, and there are signs that it's not meeting its targets.

On its website, TPP indicates that it's trying to generate more than $800,000 in sponsorships for the event. The primary summit sponsorship comes with a price tag of $250,000—an amount they're not likely to squeeze out of a bunch of rural tea party activists. Booths in the exhibit hall run as high as $4,000. The group has been advertising heavily on Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity's radio shows, and sources say that TPP has not raised enough money to fly many of its own regional and state coordinators to Phoenix for the summit as promised.

TPP wouldn't be the first group to try to hold a national tea party convention and flop. Tea Party Nation attempted to hold another convention in Las Vegas this past summer. It was postponed at the last minute, rescheduled for a few months later, and canceled again. Tea partiers, it seems, have had their fill of conventions, a phenomenon that makes the rumors about a Palin cameo highly suspicious. The Tea Party Nation's Nashville event appears only to have succeeded with the help of Palin. Without her, the Tea Party Patriots may find themselves in the same boat as Phillips' group.

UPDATE: Randy Lewis, a spokesman for TPP says, "Palin was approached for availability for the weekend of our conference and we were told that she was unable to consider due to a previous commitment. She is not attending."

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