Sarah Palin joked with a Republican audience in Iowa, the state that traditionally holds the first presidential nominating contest, that she didn’t want to be photographed yesterday while jogging there.
“Palin in Iowa Decides to Run” is the headline she and her husband, Todd, envisioned, she said, as they debated whether she should exercise on the streets of Des Moines or on a hotel treadmill.
In a state where every action by national politicians is examined for implications about a presidential bid, Palin offered little clarity about her 2012 ambitions after she spoke Friday night at the Iowa Republican Party’s largest annual fundraising dinner. November’s midterm congressional election, she said, comes first.
“I’m clear on my plans,” she told reporters. “We’re getting through these midterms as victors with common sense conservatives.”
Palin, who told reporters that she did indeed take a run along a river in Des Moines, provided no specifics on when she might make a decision on 2012. “I don’t know,” she said. “I know that you can make a big difference in America without even having a title, so I’m grateful for this opportunity.”
Palin, whose high-profile endorsements have put an imprint on this year’s congressional elections, said in her speech that Republicans need to move beyond internal rivalries to beat Democrats in November.
“The time for primary debate is over,” the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate and former Alaska governor said. “It is time to unite.”
‘The Right Track’
“We can’t wait until 2012 to get our country back on the right track -- we need to start now by electing strong leaders who aren’t afraid to shake it up,” she said. “It is time to take our country back.”
Palin, joining some Tea Party activists, has backed candidates who have knocked off rivals backed by the party’s leadership in Kentucky, Delaware, Nevada, and her home state of Alaska.
Republicans should tap the energy of grassroots activists instead of waiting for orders from the party officials, Palin said.
“This is our time -- we can’t blow it,” she said. “We won’t wait for that political playbook to be handed us from on- high, the political elite. It’s the voters who will stop these leftist policies; the voters will stop this fundamental transformation of America that is not good for America.”
Her keynote address at a dinner named after former President Ronald Reagan gave Iowa caucus activists an up-close look at a woman they have mostly seen on television.
Most of those in the audience of about 1,500 people paid $100 each to attend the Iowa Republican Party’s largest annual fundraiser. It was the biggest crowd for the dinner in recent memory and raised more than $100,000 for the party, said Danielle Plogmann, a state party spokeswoman.
Palin’s last visit to Iowa was in December as part of a promotional tour for her memoir.
Other potential Republican candidates have already started visiting the state that is scheduled to host the first presidential nomination contest in February 2012.
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia have visited the state to gauge support and start building the network of supporters it takes to win the caucuses.
Pawlenty, who has hired a full-time Iowa political staff member, has visited the state four times since he spoke at the same dinner a year ago.
Huckabee, a Baptist minister and Fox News talk-show host, won the Iowa caucuses in January 2008. He found support among Christian conservatives who have dominated Republican caucuses in Iowa.
Since running with Senator John McCain on the Republican presidential ticket, Palin has become a heroine of the Tea Party movement, a loose-knit coalition of voters seeking limits on government spending, taxes and debt.
Iowa’s caucuses depend on grass-roots organizing, which would make it difficult for Palin to succeed with a presidential bid built mainly on her celebrity status.
“I’m trying to read the signals like everybody else,” U.S. Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican, said in an interview. “She’s on a roll if you look at the score sheet of the people she’s endorsed.”
Palin’s appearance follows a week where she demonstrated her influence in Republican politics, after candidates she endorsed won U.S. Senate primaries in Delaware and New Hampshire.
Her picks often have differed from the preferences of other party leaders. In Delaware’s Republican Senate primary on Sept. 14, Christine O’Donnell defeated Mike Castle, a nine-term congressman and former governor. Analysts said the upset would increase Democratic of retaining the state’s Senate seat, thereby helping the party maintain control of the chamber in November.
O’Donnell’s win followed a victory last month in Alaska by Joe Miller, a Republican backed by Palin and Tea Party activists who defeated incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski, who holds the No. 4 leadership post among Senate Republicans.
Palin told reporters she wanted to return to Iowa “soon,” although she was more interested in getting to Delaware to “start knocking on doors” for O’Donnell.
“Palin clearly has a lot of political leverage,” said King, who represents the Iowa congressional district with the largest proportion of Republican voters. “She has very good conservative instincts.”
King said Palin shouldn’t wait until a year from now to announce her intentions, if she is serious about running in Iowa.
“It wouldn’t be my advice because it takes real organizational effort,” he said. “By the same token, she has done a couple of unconventional things that surprised me on how well they turned out, so it’s hard for me to say that it couldn’t be done.”
King said Palin’s potential will be best measured after votes are counted in the Nov. 2 elections.
“If the people she supported win in significant numbers Nov. 2, then she becomes even more powerful than she is today,” he said. “I encourage her to push herself as far as she wants to go, and I’d sure like to see her come back to Iowa often.”
Palin was viewed favorably by 58 percent of Iowa Republicans in a poll by the Des Moines Register in June. A New York Times/CBS News poll published this week found that nationwide, nearly half of Americans hold an unfavorable view of her.
Speaking to reporters in Washington before Palin’s speech, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Palin “may well be, in all honesty, the most formidable force in the Republican Party right now.”
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