By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON | Fri Sep 17, 2010 12:25pm EDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Will Sarah Palin use her Tea Party power to launch a run for president in 2012? Nobody knows, but her trip to Iowa on Friday may provide some clues.
Palin speaks at the Iowa Republican Party's Ronald Reagan Dinner in Des Moines, her influence among Tea Party activists strong after conservative candidates she backed won in Delaware and New Hampshire Senate primary races on Tuesday.
The former Alaska governor, who was Republican Senator John McCain's vice presidential running mate in the 2008 campaign, remains coy about whether she will join what could be a long list of challengers to Democratic President Barack Obama.
But her visit to Iowa for a speech at a high-profile party fund-raising event for November 2 congressional elections will doubtless feed speculation the self-styled "hockey mom" might seek the White House in 2012.
"I think what she's doing there is what she's doing in a lot of places -- she's tickling the political community. I think for any politician to show up in Iowa is to fuel speculation," said David Yepsen, a longtime Iowa watcher who is director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.
Iowa and New Hampshire cast the first votes in presidential nominating campaigns and potential candidates routinely stop in each state in hopes of propelling themselves into the national spotlight.
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, pondering a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, has already blazed a trail across Iowa and is planning a sixth trip there in October.