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Sarah Palin’s celebrity faces Iowa test


DES MOINES – Sarah Palin has a dilemma right out of the infamous presidential campaign ad: She’s the biggest Republican celebrity in the world, but can she run a campaign in Iowa?

As Republicans here await Palin’s appearance at the state GOP’s Ronald Reagan Dinner Friday night, that’s the question political veterans are asking about the former Alaska governor, whose singular approach to campaigning isn’t exactly tailored to the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

Palin has left a deep mark on the 2010 elections with her unconventional political strategy, leveraging her fame and unmatched media presence to move campaigns with a single tweet and propelling several early-state candidates – including South Carolina’s Nikki Haley and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte – to victory.

In Iowa, she has been less visible and less influential, issuing only an 11th-hour endorsement of former Gov. Terry Branstad in the Republican gubernatorial primary and waiting until the fall to actually appear in the state. If Palin decides to run for president, Republicans say, that distant style could be harshly tested by an electorate that expects familiarity and is known for cutting larger-than-life figures down to size.

It was here, after all – in a state as focused this week on the spread of contaminated eggs and the season’s first gubernatorial debate as it has been on Palin’s visit – that celebrity candidates from John Glenn to Rudy Giuliani, to Hillary Clinton have seen their national aspirations founder amid a demanding retail campaign.

“Sometimes we bestow celebrity status on people in this state, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to votes,” said Dave Roederer, who chaired John McCain’s 2008 campaign in Iowa. “You want to fill a room in this town, any size, Rudy Giuliani could do it. Problem is, people weren’t willing to vote for him.”

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