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Palin’s Trip to Iowa Stirs 2012 Speculation

Sarah Palin is flying to Iowa to speak tonight at the Ronald Reagan Dinner, a big annual affair in Des Moines, and once again increasing speculation as to whether she’ll make a presidential bid in 2012. The Times notes that while Palin has been on a roll helping fellow conservatives win GOP primaries in a number of states, her own popularity among Americans still leaves a lot to be desired:

While popular among conservatives, Palin still has a long way to go with other Americans. A CBS News poll on Thursday said 46 percent of American voters viewed Palin unfavorably, compared with 21 percent who have a favorable opinion of her and 33 percent who are undecided.

Politico, meanwhile, takes the opportunity to speculate on the former Alaska governor’s chances of connecting with Iowa’s notoriously demanding and scrupulous caucus goers:

“The caucuses would be made for someone like her,” said Eric Woolson, a former spokesman for [former Gov. Mike] Huckabee. “With turnout of 120,000, you get 40,000 votes and that’s a big win in a caucus.”

Both Obama and Huckabee won with a combination of made-for-television charisma and shoe-leather campaigning. The second of those components could be Palin’s biggest challenge and there’s no telling whether the 2008 vice presidential nominee would, as one Republican put it, “get in a volunteer’s minivan and drive to five cities throughout the day.”

As far as ground game, a number of GOP 2012 hopefuls are way out in front of Palin in their organizing efforts in the state. Palin might have a knack for filling a room at big events, but the name of the game in Iowa, note GOP operatives, is more often small ball:

“I don’t think you’re able to do that so much in Iowa,” said Ed Failor, the president of Iowans for Tax Relief, an influential fiscal conservative group. “Iowans have a, frankly, unrealistic and disproportionate belief that we get to see all the candidates.”

Failor and several other Republicans noted that Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum have already left significant footprints in Iowa. The Des Moines Register reported this week that Pawlenty has hired full-time staff in the state, and multiple strategists said Gingrich adviser Sam Dawson and other aides have been reaching out to Iowa Republicans more aggressively than in previous cycles when Gingrich has entertained running.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has an organizational presence in the state, too, and is scheduled to campaign for former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad’s campaign. His plans to compete in Iowa seem less certain following his 2008 loss to Huckabee, whose own plans are also unclear.

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