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Palin's Iowa Visit Marks Her First Big 2012 Move

Palin's Iowa Visit Marks Her First Big 2012 Move

By Scott Conroy - August 31, 2010

In the clearest indication yet that she is seriously considering a run for the presidency, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has accepted an invitation to be the featured speaker at the Republican Party of Iowa's Ronald Reagan Dinner on September 17 in Des Moines.

Until now, Palin has generally avoided the kinds of high-profile visits to early voting states that other potential 2012 candidates have begun to make more regularly. But her appearance at the $100-a-plate annual Iowa GOP fundraiser is precisely the kind of move that is sure to send speculation about her presidential ambitions into overdrive.

Palin's visit to the first-in-the-nation caucus state will be her first since a quick stop in Des Moines during her Going Rogue book tour last year. The visit is likely to build upon some of the momentum Palin has generated in recent primaries when her endorsements have helped to propel several candidates to victory.

The announcement comes as Iowa Republicans had begun to wonder whether Palin would commit to doing the grunt work required to win over the famously difficult to impress voters in Iowa's 99 counties, rather than relying primarily on her universal name recognition and uniquely deep appeal among the GOP base.

As one state Republican operative put it to RealClearPolitics, "They don't want to see a toe dipped in the water. They want to see her swan dive off the diving board."

But although Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum are among the 2012 prospects who have already begun in earnest to lay the foundation for presidential campaigns in Iowa and have made repeated visits to the state, Palin is not the only potential candidate who has waded in more slowly.

Indeed, the race before the race in Iowa has not yet heated up to where it was at this point in 2006, and Palin does not necessarily need to be in a hurry to get her fingernails dirty behind the scenes.

Iowans for Tax Relief President Ed Failor, Jr., an influential conservative voice in the state who remains uncommitted to any potential GOP candidate, said that he thinks Palin is "one of many people that Iowans should take seriously" because of her message about changing the culture of Washington, which is sure to resonate with many voters in the state.

"I don't think there's any reason to question that she'd come in to do the hard work if she's going to explore this," Failor said. "If this is part of her move in that direction, I think it's a reasonable timeframe. You can't be successful in Iowa without coming in and doing the groundwork, but I don't think there's any reason to suspect she's making those errors."

Palin will likely parlay her visit to Des Moines with other goodwill-building measures, although no additional events have yet been confirmed.

In June, Palin weighed in on the state's gubernatorial race by endorsing establishment favorite Terry Branstad, who was then locked in a Republican primary battle against conservative upstart Bob Vander Plaats. Branstad is now battling Democratic Governor Chet Culver in the general election, and Palin's visit will come three days after the gubernatorial candidates square off in their first debate.

Iowa Christian Alliance President Steve Scheffler, who is among the most prominent conservative leaders in the state, said that he has already started a dialogue with Pawlenty, Santorum, and Gingrich, but has not yet heard from Palin or anyone on SarahPAC's staff.

Still, Scheffler did not seem to hold against Palin the lack of communication to this point and said that he "wouldn't put out of the question" the idea that she might keynote an event on behalf of his group somewhere down the road, if she remains serious about exploring a presidential run.

Scheffler made it clear that he'd like to see much more of the former GOP vice presidential nominee in the coming weeks and months.

"You can't just be here now and then maybe six months from now," Scheffler said. "I think she's going to have to be here on a fairly consistent basis if she wants to win over the hearts and minds of caucus-goers."

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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