PELLA, Iowa — Sarah Palin made a foray into this key early presidential campaign state Tuesday, appearing at a screening of a documentary about her years as Alaska governor and further stoking speculation that she might make a White House bid.
“It’s a tough decision; it’s a big decision to decide whether to run for office or not. I’m still contemplating,” Palin said as she made her way past cameras and onlookers and into the premiere, where she watched a screening of the two-hour film, “The Undefeated,” with about 400 people.
Palin’s daughter Bristol had said in a Fox News interview Tuesday that the former vice presidential candidate had made up her mind, prompting a mother-daughter exchange via text message.
The former Alaska governor arrived for her first visit to the state this year just hours after President Obama spoke at a factory in eastern Iowa and a day after Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) announced her presidential candidacy in Waterloo. Former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) was campaigning in the northwestern part of the state.
Obama, touring an Alcoa plant in Bettendorf that makes alloys and wings for airplanes, cited the facility as an example of the manufacturing jobs he wants to help create.
“Iowa, you and I go way back. We have some history together,” the president said to loud applause from several hundred at the factory.
Palin’s relatively low-key visit included a cookout for Iowa Republicans and hundreds of voters after the screening at the Pella Opera House, and she and her husband, Todd, were spotted earlier in the day having lunch at a Panera Bread in Urbandale, where they met with a prominent GOP fundraiser.
The feature-length documentary, directed by conservative filmmaker Steve Bannon, features voiceovers by Palin and explores her time as mayor of Wasilla, governor of Alaska and GOP vice presidential nominee. It will debut next month in New Hampshire and South Carolina, two other early primary states.
“I didn’t make this movie for Palinistas, I made it for middle-of-road Americans,” Bannon said. “But we aren’t promoting her for president. This is a commercial venture, not a campaign film.”
After the movie, Palin addressed the crowd for about five minutes, thanking the film-makers for setting the record straight. And in what sounded like the makings of a stump speech, she criticized Obama’s policies but said, “You don’t need a title, you don’t need a political position” to make a difference.
“It’s not about me or movies. It’s about work ethic,” she said. “It’s about values embraced and held by so many Americans who understand freedom. . . . We’re gonna go down fighting.”
Yet the movie’s success will be a measure of Palin’s popularity and whether she can turn her political celebrity into a viable candidacy.
Residents of this town of 10,000, which boasts the tallest Dutch-style windmill in North America, welcomed the Palin buzz but not necessarily a Palin candidacy.
“I don’t know what kind of chance she has. If she runs, it’s a step up for women,” said Laura Vos, 57, who lives on a 200-acre farm here and voted for the McCain-Palin ticket in 2008. “But I'm not sure she’s necessarily ready for the White House. She’s more like the rest of us, but I’m not sure that’s a plus for her. She should just make up her mind and get on with it, whatever she decides.”
The most recent poll of likely Republican caucusgoers shows Bachmann and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney with strong support here and Palin with high favorability ratings. A kind of grass-roots campaign of Palin loyalists has been growing in the state, keeping interest in a candidacy alive, even as the window for announcing narrows and the Republican field begins to solidify.
Iowa catapulted Obama to the front of the Democratic pack in 2008, helping to answer questions about whether his race would hamper his candidacy. He won the swing state in the general election. First lady Michelle Obama visited the state in May to deliver a commencement address at the University of Northern Iowa.
For some, especially women, a Palin candidacy would tap into the same historic prospect that Obama’s candidacy did.
“I would want her to run because she’s a woman. And to do that with a family, that prospect amazes me,” said Dawn Core, 48, who said she voted for Obama in 2008. She said she still admires the president, but “I’m a little star struck by [Palin], and I would probably vote for her if she ran.”
But there’s also speculation that Palin may be focused more on the Palin brand than on a White House run. On Wednesday, she and Bristol will head to Minnesota to sign copies of their books.
Staff writer Perry Bacon Jr. contributed to this report from Iowa.