You better put your money on Sarah Palin running for president in 2012 -- whether she runs for re-election as governor next year or not.
Why should it be considered a sure thing?
Well, because the good governor of Alaska has shown quite the propensity in recent weeks to get good and scrappy. There hasn't been a fight -- or a perceived slight -- that she hasn't let slide.
Item: The now-famous David Letterman scrap that resulted in not one, but two apologies from the gap-toothed late-night host. Palin accepted the second apology from Letterman -- but still managed to get a handful of outraged supporters protesting outside The Late Show studios. A "Fire David Letterman" group still exists on Facebook. It may not be approved by the governor, but the seeds have been set.
Item: No sooner had that died down than Palin went after an Alaskan blogger who put up a parody of a photo of her holding her baby Trig -- with a Photo-shopped image of the head of a local conservative radio talk show host. Palin's office blasted back:
"Recently we learned of a malicious desecration of a photo of the Governor and baby Trig that has become an iconic representation of a mother's love for a special needs child," Palin spokeswoman Meghan Stapelton said in a statement provided to CNN. "The mere idea of someone doctoring the photo of a special needs baby is appalling."
Item: And, then, over the weekend, there were cheap shots exchanged with John Kerry. When Mark Sanford was reported only as "missing" -- but before he had resurfaced as the Appalachian/Argentinan lover -- Kerry remarked, "Too bad if a governor had to go missing it couldn't have been the governor of Alaska...You know, Sarah Palin."
As is typical of John Kerry, not only wasn't the joke that funny, he had to emphasize, "You know, Sarah Palin..." as if no one -- especially political reporters -- wouldn't know who "the governor of Alaska" refers to.
Well, Palin -- even as she visited with members of the Alaskan National Guard -- wouldn't let the line go: "But the way he said it, he looked quite frustrated, and he looked so sad, and I just wanted to reach out to the TV and say, 'John Kerry, why the long face?'" Now, that's not only a funny line, it also sends a message: "Don't mess with the lady. She's a fighter who gives as good as she gets."
Now, Palin has to walk a fine line here. She can't appear too sensitive on these issues -- jumping at every public criticism of her and taking offense on behalf of her kids.
However, in small doses, this sort of exchange can become political gold. Mothers generally don't lose when they are seen as standing up for their kids. Furthermore, members of ideological bases love it when leaders of their parties are assertive and ready to, pardon the expression, "get in the face" of members of the other party -- as Palin did with Kerry.
That is why Howard Dean struck a chord with hardcore liberals back in 2003-04 by proclaiming that he was a "member of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party."
So, Palin is doing two things: Inoculating herself against any possible photo situations that include her kids -- and making Democrats very nervous about any comments they might be inclined to make about her. Her high school basketball nickname wasn't "barracuda" for nothing. Baring her teeth both in protection of her young and defending herself against a male politician -- even if it's in "good fun" -- is smart politics.
And any other Republicans thinking about running in 2012 had better pay attention to the lady's skills.