article

06.28.11

Sarah Palin’s Iowa Debut

Tuesday’s “Undefeated” premiere in Iowa and barbecue after-party will feature the former governor, handpicked locals, and Palin pals, not state GOP bigwigs—but it just might turn into a political event.

It’s Sarah Palin the movie star, not the presidential candidate, who will head to Iowa on Tuesday, but despite the quick visit, politics and the state’s presidential importance are sure to play a bigger part of the visit than she may be intending. 

Palin will be in the crucial first caucus state for the first time this year not to meet with operatives ahead of a presidential run but to screen the documentary about her life, The Undefeated, at the opera house in the scenic town of Pella. Although the Iowa trip is sure to ramp up speculation yet again that she will enter the 2012 race, all signs point to a flying visit to the Hawkeye State completely focused on the film’s premiere.

Director Stephen K. Bannon said he is “ecstatic” and “elated” about the film’s premiere, but as in The Undefeated—Palin facilitated the interviews for the film but was not directly involved in its making—she will just be a guest at the screening.

“One of the reasons Gov. Palin wanted to come is because of the venue, the historic opera house in the little town of Pella. She can come see the movie and see it in a historic setting,” Bannon told The Daily Beast. “It’s not about Sarah Palin. It’s about the values she represents and that are in the film: tenacity, fortitude, and grit.”

When news broke Saturday that the former Alaska governor was planning to attend the screening in Pella, speculation was rife that she was going to kick off the second leg of her “One Nation” bus tour. The first leg ended in the first primary state of New Hampshire, and Palin insiders with knowledge of the tour had always stressed that the second leg would include Iowa, while the third would likely hit South Carolina, the first presidential primary state in the South. But on Wednesday she’ll be at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota—without her bus—for a mother-daughter book signing at Barnes & Noble. Eldest daughter Bristol’s memoir, Not Afraid of Life, was released last week and this will be her first book event. Sarah Palin’s second book, America By Heart, was released last year.

“I never talked to SarahPAC about the premiere. No one in the PAC was invited. I invited Gov. Palin,” Bannon said. “The barbecue is for the people of Pella.”

Although she is sure to be swarmed both by media and supporters in Pella—after the screening, Bannon and his team are throwing an invitation-only barbecue for local residents—she doesn’t have meetings lined up with the GOP stalwarts traditional candidates meet with ahead of a campaign. Due to demand, seating was increased at the historic opera house to more than 300, and about 1,000 people are expected at the cookout. One staffer organizing the event described the setting as straight out of a “Norman Rockwell painting.”

The former governor told reporters on her bus tour that any Palin presidential campaign would be “unconventional and untraditional,” but Craig Robinson, former political director of the Republican Party of Iowa, said it may not matter that she’s doing things differently. Tuesday’s barbecue will look much like a campaign event, he said, comparing it to Rep. Michele Bachmann’s pre-campaign announcement event Sunday night in Waterloo.

“Is [Palin] going to sit down and meet with the people you would go through if you were going to launch a presidential campaign? No, but I think she will interact with very conservative people, very active Republicans,” Robinson said, noting that Pella is in a conservative part of the state. “She will be mingling with caucus-goers.”

Robinson, who said he plans to remain unaffiliated to any candidate, stressed that Palin’s high name recognition means she doesn’t need to meet with state operatives and political dignitaries, as other hopefuls do. 

“In Iowa, in a caucus state, big-name operatives and consultants are overrated,” he said. “You need your county GOP chair and people willing to make phone calls and organize your neighbors. That’s what caucuses are about. Those are the most important people she can meet, the people that are really Sarah Palin fans, not a potential campaign manager or potential caucus director. The people she will be mingling with are quite important.”

Palin will attend the premiere with husband Todd and longtime friend Kristan Cole, who also stars in the movie. The advance staffers rehired for the bus tour, Jason Recher and Doug McMarlin, will not be in attendance. Bannon said he believes Palin will not be traveling with staff.

“I never talked to SarahPAC about the premiere. No one in the PAC was invited. I invited Gov. Palin,” Bannon said. “The barbecue is for the people of Pella.”

The director said local politicians will be in attendance, but despite the film’s goal—trying to reframe Palin’s image as a bipartisan problem solver ahead of a possible run—big-name operatives weren’t invited.

“The chief theme of the film is populism, Tea Party populism. I did not invite bigwigs in the Republican Party throughout the state. The film is not about that, it’s about a simpler populist message. There will be no red carpet. The red carpet will be the red bricks that pave the front of the opera house,” Bannon said.

Unlike her bus tour, which had reporters chasing the bus and working sources to find out the next stop, Tuesday’s premiere of the pro-Palin documentary will be highly produced by Bannon’s team. One unknown element is how many Palin supporters from outside the state will swarm the opera house hoping to get a glance at Palin, although tickets for both the screening and the cookout are no longer available.

Pro-Palin websites like Conservatives4Palin were giving conflicting information over the past few days about whether supporters should show up at the event. Originally the site, which is constantly updated and followed by Palin’s passionate fan base, implored supporters to flood Pella with the goal of convincing Palin to run for the presidency. That quickly changed Monday, when it became clear that only limited tickets were being distributed for the event and that most would go to locals. Many supporters are planning on coming anyway, but Bannon said he is not worried about the possible crush of supporters.

Although the frenzy over the will-she won’t-she is sure to intensify, even with this brief visit, Palin insiders still stress that she has yet to make up her mind and staff may not know much before she decides to announce her intentions. They add that a decision most likely will not be made before the fall.