Sarah Palin made a surprise appearance at a suburban Des Moines restaurant Friday evening on the eve of a speech in the leadoff caucus state that is being closely watched for signals of whether she plans to run for president.
The former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican nominee for vice president was greeted at the Iowa Machine Shed restaurant Friday night with chants of "Run, Sarah, run!" as she made her way through hundreds of fans.
Hundreds jammed the entry, bar and back room of the farm-themed family restaurant, straining to get a look at the political celebrity. They were from dozens of states from as far away as Texas, Florida and California.
Palin has said she is considering entering the race for the 2012 GOP nomination, already under way in Iowa, which holds the first nominating caucus, and other early-voting states. She has said she expects to make a decision by the end of September, and is not expected to disclose her plans during her speech Saturday at a tea party rally in a town south of Des Moines.
Palin is expected to speak Saturday about the federal deficit, and criticize Democrat President Barack Obama and congressional leaders in both parties for the recent debt-ceiling standoff.
Accompanied by husband Todd, Palin worked the crowded restaurant, shaking hands, posing for pictures and hugging babies.
But Palin gave no speech, and instead listened as Peter Singleton, a California lawyer who has been organizing supporters for Palin in several states including Iowa, lauded her as a plain-spoken champion of conservative fiscal policy and limited government.
"If she runs, I believe she will win the nomination. And I believe she will win the general election," Singleton said. "What is much more important, I believe she will govern effectively in the challenging days and years ahead."
Palin has made several similar visits to Iowa since stepping down as Alaska governor two years ago. Last month, she was trailed by crowds of supporters and media at the Iowa State Fair.
However, Palin has not conducted any of the retail-style events aimed at putting her in touch with GOP activists in the key state, as others have for months. Likewise, Palin has had no conversations with leading Republican figures such as Gov. Terry Branstad, a common step among likely presidential candidates.