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Reality TV takes Palin into political wilderness

The quandary that is Sarah Palin just gets more troublesome.

The two schools of thought about her likely future – highly paid celebrity or 2012 presidential candidate – both had new evidence to offer last night to support their case. For dedicated Palintologists everywhere, the titillation is unbearable.

The very day that Ms Palin, adored matriarch of the Tea Party movement and one-time vice presidential hopeful, began a multi-venue speaking tour of California with family in tow – husband Todd Palin drove the motor-home all the way from Alaska for it – the trailer was released by TLC, a top American cable channel, promoting what it not-so-coyly called "An all new 8-week Television Event".

That is the wildly anticipated reality series about the former governor's home state and her tribe called, simply, Sarah Palin's Alaska. Readers of the Wasilla tea-leaves have leapt on a line uttered by Ms Palin as she is seen engaging with family members in healthy frontier pursuits like kayaking and ski- touring. "I'd rather be doing this than in some stuffy old political office. I'd rather be out here being free."

On the screen the words pop up, "No lobbyists. Only one agenda. Family adventure. Step into Sarah's backyard." (From where she can see Russia, they might have added.) The woman who might have been one heartbeat away from the presidency then exclaims: "This is flippin' fun."

The Tea Party folk call her Mama Grizzly and now we know why. And, yes, two real grizzlies make a cameo appearance.

The trailer lasts less than a minute and America will have to wait until 14 November to see the first full episode. But those tea-leaf analysts are convinced: Ms Palin is using the series to announce her retirement from politics. The great outdoors is her habitat, except when it is the great indoors of the Fox News television studios, of course.

This makes sense to a lot of people. Ms Palin walked out on her job as Governor of Alaska just a few months after her gig with John McCain fizzled and Barack Obama took the White House and since then she has been every talent agent's dream: books and TV appearances galore and now a reality series.

The same people point to the polling numbers on Ms Palin. By and large, they are not good. Even in her home state, more people think poorly of her than well. In California where she is still on the road speaking at a series of Republican events and fund-raisers, 66 per cent of respondents in a new poll say they would be "less inclined" to vote for a candidate if they received an endorsement from Ms Palin.

All of which helps explain that even as she putters through the state in the motor-home, Ms Palin will not be joined at any stage by either of the big name Republicans trying to get elected in midterm elections on 2 November. Carly Fiorina, who is fighting to replace Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, and Meg Whitman, who is vying to be California's next governor, are both steering clear.

So what is Ms Palin up to? This tour is not arranged by TLC and has nothing to do with the reality series. That leads to the conclusion that she is in California preparing the ground for something else: the 2012 presidential race. California is where the money is. She is not retiring after all.

In the end, of course, the TLC show and her political ambitions can be mutually reinforcing. "Family comes first, it's just gotta be that way," Mama Grizzly expounds in the trailer. Briefly appearing inside her Wasilla home, she is seen shooing her girls towards their bedrooms and then ordering: "No boys go upstairs."

These are values that conservative America likes.