By NEIL KING JR.
DES MOINES, Iowa—Prominent Republicans here pretty much splinter into two camps on the question of whether Sarah Palin will jump into the 2012 presidential race.
One side points to a mysterious California lawyer named Peter Singleton as proof the former Alaska governor will definitely run. The other side points to Mr. Singleton as proof she won’t.
“When it comes to Palin in Iowa, it’s pretty much Peter Singleton,” said Iowa Tea Party Director Ryan Rhodes. “The guy is everywhere.”
Crisscrossing the state in a series of rented cars, the 56-year-old Mr. Singleton has spent the better part of five months visiting obscure county GOP chairmen, befriending tea-party activists, buttonholing lawmakers in the lobby of the state Capitol, and amassing a database of potential Palin supporters. His base camp is the Days Inn in West Des Moines, where he washes his shirts in the sink.
Deepening the mystery: Mr. Singleton swears he has never met Ms. Palin and has no contact with her team. “I’m just a dedicated activist working on my own,” he said.
But not many Republicans here buy the lone-wolf theory.
“I came away from our conversation convinced Mr. Singleton is organizing for her, and has an inside track on her 2012 campaign,” said Jeff Jorgensen, GOP chairman of Pottawattamie County in the state’s southwestern corner. He met Mr. Singleton for breakfast last month.
State Sen. Kent Sorenson, an up-and-comer in Iowa tea-party circles, emerged from his talks with the Menlo Park lawyer with a different conclusion.
“To send someone you’ve never met, an operative from another state, just seems odd,” he said. “It suggests Sarah Palin is simply not serious about Iowa.” Mr. Sorenson plans to support Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann if she runs.
Ms. Palin’s plans for 2012 remain a big topic across a state famed for its first-in-the-nation caucus, a contest—now set for February—that rewards those who really work the state, from county fairs to small-town living rooms.
Ms. Palin, who appeared at a tea-party event in Wisconsin over the weekend, is slipping in most national polls, but GOP activists here believe she would scramble the emerging field if she jumps in.
Other presumed candidates—Tim Pawlenty, Haley Barbour, Newt Gingrich—are now popping into Iowa almost weekly. Many are beginning to hire operatives and lease office space. But Republicans strain to cite any evidence of a fledgling Palin campaign in Iowa—beyond the ubiquitous Mr. Singleton. Ms. Palin hasn’t visited the state since December.
“I can’t think of a single person outside of him who says they’re ready to drop everything and work for Sarah Palin if she runs,” said Maureen Olsen, publisher and editor of the Neola Gazette and state president of the Iowa Federation of Republican Women.
The tall, sleepy-eyed Silicon Valley lawyer and former Oracle salesman seems to have found his calling in Iowa’s political byways. Until last year, he had never worked on a political campaign.
A Northern California native, he spent a decade as a small-time investor after leaving Oracle in the mid-1990s. He then got a law degree and clerked for a Nevada Supreme Court justice, at age 52.
He first traveled to Iowa in August with a map of the state, and one contact at a tea-party group. “I drove around to the big counties and went into the election offices to shake hands and meet people,” he said.
He worked for Sharron Angle’s unsuccessful Senate campaign in Nevada before returning to Iowa after that election.
Iowa GOP activist Stacey Rogers first met Mr. Singleton in late November, outside a Borders bookstore in West Des Moines.
It was 6 a.m, but people were already lining up for a Palin book signing 12 hours later.
“He had a clipboard, and was gathering names, not for the book-signing, but for later use, in case Palin runs,” Ms. Rogers said.
Since then, the two have bumped into each other at dozens of events, including at a Polk County Republican Party meeting in a Des Moines Holiday Inn late last month.
“The guy has compiled a truly encyclopedic knowledge of Iowa politics and Iowa political operatives,” she said as Mr. Singleton worked the room, pulling aside members of the county’s central committee. “He also seems strangely prescient about the internal workings of Sarah Palin’s own operation.”
Mr. Singleton was similarly omnipresent at a recent Conservative Principles Conference in Des Moines that brought half a dozen likely GOP candidates to town—but not Ms. Palin.
Connie Armstrong, a top GOP organizer in Linn County, which includes Cedar Rapids, pulled him aside at the event to grill him on his ties to the Palin camp.
“He kept saying ‘we,’ but he wouldn’t clarify who ‘we’ was,” she said. “My gut feeling is he’s working on her campaign.”
Wherever he goes, Mr. Singleton argues that Ms. Palin will jump into the race, will win the Iowa caucuses and the GOP nomination, and is the best suited to defeat President Barack Obama.
If others think he is “amiably but aimlessly wandering about on an extended holiday trip,” he said, all the better.
Source: Wall Street Journal