There are boxes that US presidential hopefuls have to tick early. They have to start building a campaign team, set up a fundraising machine and they have to visit Iowa, the small but politically crucial state that traditionally kicks off a White House run.
Sarah Palin has ticked the first two and on Friday will tick the third when she is the main speaker at a $100-a-seat Republican dinner in Des Moines, Iowa. The party's sole superstar has not yet said whether she will seek the nomination to take on Barack Obama in 2012. But all the indications point to a run, and Friday's visit is the biggest sign yet.
Democrats may detest her, and so does the Republican establishment, for her perceived lack of sophistication and polarising effect on the electorate. But neither will make the choice in the Iowa caucus. The party activists will, and they are shifting behind her.
Marilea David is typical of the fan base, seeing in Palin an alternative to the old-boy network. “I think she is great. She is the only person I am excited about just now,” David said.
David, 52, who runs her own home tutoring business, will not be attending Friday's dinner. “I am a broke Republican. But if she runs, I will give her my time. I would love to campaign for her.”
Kathie Obradovich, political columnist at the Des Moines Register, sees Palin's visit as highly significant.”Palin is aware that there are flames of speculation over whether she will run for president and coming to Iowa fans that into a wildfire.