Republican consultant, Alex Castellanos, says there will be two primaries in 2012, and woe to the man who enters the tea party race.
"If you’re a traditional candidate, you have to run a traditional campaign.
There will be an opportunity to seize that mantle, the Establishment, Reaganesque, visionary Republican mantle.
My advice would be, don’t run in Sarah Palin’s primary.
Go win your primary.”
That's the popular conception -- that Palin is the consensus choice among tea partiers.
There's another popular conception in John Heilemann's fascinating preview of the 2012 primary.
Palin would bring to the race two other significant advantages, the first being the calendar.
That she would be the prohibitive favorite in Iowa, where the caucuses are dominated by Evangelical voters, is considered a given by most strategists.
But there's just no evidence in polling that those two popular conceptions are right.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC released a poll last week showed that Newt Gingrich leads among those who identify more with the tea party than Republican party, and by a decent margin (he beats Palin by 5% and Huckabee by 8%).
And among those who identify more with Republicans but support the tea party, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin are tied.
Those numbers suggest there's anything but a clear consensus among tea partiers, and there continues to be a huge disconnect between attention accorded Sarah Palin and electoral support for her.
That feeds into the other popular misconceptions -- that Iowa is a gimme for Palin.
In a summer poll of likely caucus-goers, she finished just fourth.
And while a fourth place finish might not say much about a candidate who's not well-known, name ID isn't an issue with Palin.
If Iowa were hers for the taking, caucus-goers wouldn't have put Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Mike Huckabee above her.
Obviously, polls change, but with Palin, Republican voters have already been exposed to just about everything Palin -- from her books to her TV appearances to her tweets to her Facebook posts to her daughter on Dancing with the Stars to her upcoming reality show.
And yet she's still looking up at her much quieter rivals in Iowa, and in nearly every state Public Policy Polling has polled this year.
Has she reached her ceiling? Her numbers haven't gone up -- either nationally or in mock-2012 races -- since the 2008 election.
In fact, in the first Zogby poll after the '08 election, she held a 6% lead over Mitt Romney and was the top choice among Republicans.
But that's been her high watermark.
And one month after the election, she was the most popular Republican, as well, and she still often is, but that hasn't changed her numbers in hypothetical elections.
A million Facebook posts, rallies, and tweets later and, fundamentally, she's still where she was just after the 2008 election.