JUNEAU, Alaska -- Sarah Palin will embark this weekend on a campaign-style bus tour along the East Coast, sending a jolt through the now-sleepy Republican presidential contest and thrusting a telegenic but divisive politician back into the nation's spotlight.
Palin's tour announcement is the strongest signal yet that she is considering a presidential bid, despite her failure to take traditional steps such as organizing a campaign team in early primary states.
The former Alaska governor's approval ratings have fallen across the board -- including among Republicans -- in recent months, but many conservatives adore her, and she has enough name recognition and charisma to shake up a GOP contest that at this point seems to be focusing on three male former governors.
Beginning Sunday, Palin plans to meet with veterans and visit historic sites that her political action committee calls key to the country's formation, survival and growth.
The tour follows reports that Palin has bought a house in Arizona and the disclosure that she has authorized a feature-length film about her career, which could serve as a campaign centerpiece.
She recently said she has "that fire in the belly" for a presidential bid.
Palin said on the website for SarahPAC that the nation is at a "critical turning point," and that her bus tour will serve as a reminder of "who we are and what Americans stand for."
Many Republican Party insiders say that Palin, the 2008 vice presidential nominee, has engaged in too many political spats and soap-opera dramas to win the nomination and challenge President Barack Obama 18 months from now.
"I think that pathway is closed," said GOP pollster Wes Anderson, who is not working for any presidential candidate. Still, Anderson said, it's not surprising that Palin would look at the current field "and say, 'Why not me?' "
A Gallup poll of Republicans, taken before Palin announced the bus tour, showed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney favored by 17 percent. Palin followed at 15 percent, Ron Paul had 10 percent, Newt Gingrich 9 percent, Herman Cain 8 percent, Tim Pawlenty 6 percent and Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman 5 percent each.
Party insiders have said that Pawlenty, a former Minnesota governor, and Huntsman, a former Utah governor, have the best chances to compete with Romney over the long haul. But a Palin candidacy could affect the contest in unpredictable ways.
In Iowa, Palin could appeal to thousands of religious conservatives who participate heavily in the nation's first presidential caucus.