An adviser to President Obama’s re-election campaign told the Washington Post this week, “Unless it’s Palin or Gingrich, we expect a very close race no matter who emerges.”

With that in mind, it’s probably worth mentioning that the former half-term Alaska governor certainly seems to be inching closer to a national campaign.

It’s hardly a sure thing. Chris Cillizza reported yesterday that “there remains no evidence in any early voting primary or caucus state that she or her political team are doing anything to lay the groundwork for a 2012 bid.”

That’s certainly true. There are, however, some other signs pointing in the other direction, including the release of a new Palin feature film, the hiring of some new aides, her purchase of a home in Arizona, and a bus tour that kicks off this weekend.

Sarah Palin will begin a bus tour of the East Coast on Memorial Day weekend, the latest and most significant evidence that the former governor of Alaska is still seriously considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination this year.

Ms. Palin will begin the series of high-profile public events in the Washington area, starting with the annual Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally and continuing on through the Northeast, according to a statement on her Web site. […]

The bus tour, which will extend beyond the weekend, will take Ms. Palin and her family through the Northeast in a decorated, red-white-and-blue charter bus, heightening comparisons to a campaign whistle-stop tour.

One source familiar with the trip said Ms. Palin would make a stop in New Hampshire, the state that holds the first presidential primary.

It’s not altogether clear what the point of the tour would be if it weren’t part of a campaign, though Palin is not above seeking publicity just for the sake of seeking publicity. The excursion will reportedly be sponsored by Palin’s political action committee, which has dubbed this the “One Nation Tour,” and is intended to “promote the fundamental restoration of America,” whatever that means.

At this point, Fox News has said it will not change her status as a network contributor, the way it ended the contracts of Santorum and Gingrich when they moved towards their campaigns, which suggests (a) the network is applying different standards; or (b) Fox News perceives this as an elaborate head-fake.

I suppose it’s also worth noting that the conclusion of the upcoming Palin movie includes a caption that reads, “From here, I can see November,” which would also appear to be a big hint.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.