By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 18, 2010; 3:49 AM
DES MOINES - Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin came to Iowa on Friday night and left few of her opponents unscathed, sharply attacking President Obama and the Democrats, denouncing the news media and pointedly calling on establishment Republicans to get over their losses in the primaries and unite for the November elections.
Palin's first visit to Iowa this year stirred speculation about a possible 2012 presidential run, but, with the exception of a humorous quip, the former governor kept her focus entirely on the midterm elections, calling for a citizen revolt against the Obama agenda.
"It's the voters who will stop these leftist policies," she said. "The voters will stop this fundamental transformation of America that's not good for America. It's the patriots who will restore America."
Saying it is time for renewal and a restoration of constitutional principles, Palin added, "and it may take some renegades going rogue to get us there."
Obama and the Democrats, she charged, "think the answer to every problem is another federal program. . . . They think that America's future should be dictated from the top down, not the bottom up. . . . They have faith in big government. We have faith in the people."
She found agreement with Obama on some of the tax cuts he has proposed recently, but said to laughter, "I particularly liked those ideas when they were part of the McCain-Palin platform back in '08."
Turning to foreign affairs, she accused Obama of catering to America's enemies while unnecessarily criticizing U.S. allies. "That's not foreign policy, that's foolish," she said.
Palin's appearance came at the end of a week in which she once again demonstrated her sizeable influence inside the Republican Party, having backed surprise winner and "tea party" favorite Christine O'Donnell in Delaware's bitterly fought Senate primary and former state attorney general Kelly Ayotte, the establishment candidate, in the New Hampshire Senate primary.
Saying "the time for choosing is near," Palin told the audience at the Iowa GOP's Ronald Reagan Dinner that "if the goal really is to take away the gavel from [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and [Senate Majority Leader Harry M.] Reid and stop the Obama agenda and make government respect the will of the people and the wisdom of the people, then it's time to unite."
Palin's speech came shortly before Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who lost her GOP primary to another Palin pick, lawyer Joe Miller, announced that she would run for reelection in November as a write-in candidate. Palin rebuked the move in a post on Twitter, writing, "Primary voters spoke. Listen to the people, respect their will."
Palin offered in her Iowa speech scathing criticism of the media, calling on Republicans to "hold the press accountable when they're making things up and not telling the truth."
She said political figures who hide behind the cloak of anonymity to attack others in print are "cowards" and that the journalists who provide them cover are "gutless." "It's not fair to our country. It's not fair to our democracy. And it's not fair to our troops, who are willing to sacrifice all for your freedoms, journalists," she said.
Palin's speech produced the largest audience in the history of the Ronald Reagan Dinner, a major fundraiser for the state party. The audience applauded frequently throughout the speech, and it was clear the former governor had many fans in the audience, including some who want her to run for president in 2012.
"I like what she stands for," said Judi Tjepkes of Gowrie, Iowa. "She's a no-nonsense girl. I love what she says."
"Is she up for it?" said Loras Schulte, who managed Iowa campaigns for Patrick J. Buchanan and Gary Bauer. "I don't know that I can say yes. I would certainly like to see her throw her hat in the ring."
Others said they were not sure she was ready to be a serious candidate in a state that demands much time and attention from its presidential hopefuls.
Compared with some other potential 2012 candidates, Palin has spent little time in Iowa since she was McCain's vice presidential running mate in 2008. Some of her potential rivals have made multiple trips to the state whose caucuses will, as in the past, kick off the nominating season early in 2012.
Iowa GOP strategists said they doubted that her relative absence has cost her in any significant way. They described her as one of the few true stars in the party and said she was able to command interest and attention with fewer visits than some others who might be mulling a presidential run.
But they also said that if she decides to run, she will have to be prepared for the kind of politics Iowa activists demand, with lots of visits and plenty of face-to-face time answering questions from voters.