Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin greeted hundreds of admirers in Sioux City on Sunday, fueling speculation about a possible presidential run in 2012.
Iowa's caucuses traditionally kick off the presidential nominating season, and Republican strategists saw the stop in Palin's national book-signing tour as a signal not to be missed.
"No politician comes to Iowa by accident," Republican strategist Tim Albrecht said. "Every politician knows the implications when they set foot here."
As with other stops on Palin's book tour, the event was tightly controlled with photographers allowed in briefly and reporters banned. Palin arrived about 90 minutes late and didn't speak publicly, other than to greet the crowd.
"Thank you guys very much," she said to those gathered to watch her arrival.
Stan Millage of Sioux City began waiting in line at 4:30 a.m. to get his book signed.
"She's a down to earth person who will fight against the government," Millage said. "I can see her out there fishing with the guys. Plus, she's hot."
Other supporters also described Palin as down to earth and someone they thought might lead the country someday.
"I think she's one of the few individuals who can whip Congress into shape," said Grant Buldhaupt, who drove nearly four hours from Des Moines. "She's conservative, and she can stop the runaway government spending."
Iowa's Republican caucuses have been increasingly dominated by social and religious conservatives like Palin. Many strategists noted that her book-signing event was in Republican-dominated western Iowa, which would likely be her base if she ran.
"In Iowa Republican politics, the more populist and religious conservatives are in control," Drake University political science professor Dennis Goldford said. "They adore her."
But some questioned whether Palin could turn her star appeal into votes in a state where face-to-face campaigning has usually played an important role.
Republican strategist Eric Woolson worked for Democrats early in his career, and he saw some comparisons to the campaign of former Sen. John Glenn. The former astronaut drew huge and admiring crowds when he ran for president in 1984 but that didn't translate into votes.
"They went to see John Glenn the astronaut, not John Glenn the Democratic candidate for president," Woolson said. "A tremendous amount of her appeal is as Sarah Palin the celebrity, as opposed to Sarah Palin the potential 2012 nominee."
Steve Scheffler, head of the powerful Iowa Christian Alliance said many people were attracted to Palin because "they like Republican leaders who call a spade a spade."
But, he said, the former Alaska governor still has a lot to prove.
"Her biggest challenge will be to convince people she's got the depth to be a successful president," he said. "In the perilous times we live in, people are going to want to know if she's up to snuff."