The activists' comments suggested that Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, a tea party favorite, could vie with Palin for attention. "What I think would really be interesting is to see Palin and Bachmann go head to head in Iowa," Branstad said.
Palin has a reservoir of goodwill but must overcome real obstacles. Georgia Vincent, an office manager, admires Palin but doesn't see her as presidential. "I have tremendous respect for her but I don't think that the presidency is where her talents could be best used," she said.
Adam Freed, an attorney, said he too has great respect for Palin. "But I think resigning from the governorship was a huge mistake," he said. "Being president is going to be tough at times and people are going to attack you. If her reaction is to resign in that situation I have a very difficult time putting that level of trust in her."
Gwen Ecklund, the Crawford County GOP chair, said she believes Palin has been treated unfairly by the media but also "shoots off her mouth" in ways that cause problems. Nancy Bliesman, a housewife, said, "I just don't see her even getting close" to winning the White House.
In West Des Moines, the comments about Palin surprised even some of the participants. Christi Taylor's husband, Dallas County GOP chairman Rob Taylor, praised her, saying, "She really brought the movement back into the Republican Party, so kudos to her for doing that." Still, he believes she needs more experience.
Phil Tuning drew a big laugh when he described her as "combative, competitive, opportunistic."
After Christi Taylor expressed her views, Michele Brown, a community volunteer, offered an even more surprising assessment. "I think a lot of women really wanted her to be someone special," she said. "I think as time has passed that she's just not a presidential candidate right now. Now maybe in time she will be, but she's got some grooming to do. I'd rather see Hillary Clinton."
The room erupted, but Christi Taylor seconded Brown's comment. Neither she nor Brown said they agreed with Clinton on the issues, but they said she had the requisite qualifications to be president - experience, depth and intelligence.
Ervin came to Palin's defense. "You're kicking that girl when she's down," she protested. Ervin went on to say that she would rather have Palin in the White House than Obama, but that she doubts Palin could win. "It makes me mad that she can't or won't be president because there's no way she's going to get elected," she said. "I know that and it's really sad."
That is the challenge ahead for Palin, if she becomes a candidate.