By Steve Holland
PELLA, Iowa (Reuters) - A visit to Iowa by Republican Sarah Palin on Tuesday is either a timely political move to fuel speculation about a potential 2012 presidential run or simply an effort to take advantage of her star power.
Or maybe it's both.
Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008, was to attend the premiere of a flattering documentary about her, "The Undefeated," in the small Iowa town of Pella on Tuesday night.
She is visiting a day after Michele Bachmann, a Republican member of the House of Representatives who is often compared to Palin, launched her own presidential campaign in Iowa, and at a time when many candidates, even President Barack Obama, are touring the early voting state to seek support.
The Midwestern state holds the first contest on the road to the Republican 2012 presidential nomination.
Palin has carefully left the door open to a campaign. Her appearance in Iowa was likely to encourage those who think the former Alaska governor still might jump into the wide-open race.
Palin's daughter, Bristol Palin, a mini-celebrity in her own right, showed her ability to create political buzz by saying on Fox News that her mother had made up her mind already about whether to seek the nomination and that she would like to see Sarah Palin run.
"She definitely knows," Bristol Palin said when asked whether Sarah Palin had made up her mind. She said the decision would remain within the family for now.
Palin launched a "One Nation" bus tour in late May of the eastern United States and plans are said to be in the works for another tour at some point.
But Palin has almost no campaign infrastructure or team, while the race to be the Republican candidate to challenge Obama is now well under way.
If Palin were to run, she and Bachmann would likely be competing for the same social conservative voters who are powerful in Iowa, whose caucuses next February are the first voting contest of the 2012 nomination battle.
With her massive name recognition, Palin can probably afford to skip the Republicans' August straw poll in Iowa, said Tim Hagle, a political science professor at the University of Iowa. That poll is a gauge of who will win the Iowa caucuses.
Palin should have made up her mind by Labor Day in early September on whether to run to give her team time to organize for the Iowa votes.
"It's not too late for her to get into the race," Hagle said.
Obama also visited Iowa on Tuesday, going to an aluminum plant where he talked about jobs and the economy.
The biopic is likely to keep Palin in the spotlight, much as her reality TV show, "Sarah Palin's Alaska," did earlier this year.
The documentary traces Palin's rise from working on a commercial fishing boat in Alaska that she co-owns with her husband to important political office.
It shows her taking on vested interests, said the film's writer and director, Stephen Bannon.
"She's not part of any social or cultural or political elite," he said.
(Additional reporting by Kay Henderson; Editing by Vicki Allen)