Posted Friday, Aug. 12, 2011, at 2:41 PM
DES MOINES -- The rumors came true around 12:30 p.m. local time, as Sarah Palin appeared at the Iowa state fair, making her way into the livestock pens near the edge of the grounds. Palin, who's starting another leg of a national tour, had not announced where she'd go, and this location was a good ten minute's walk away from the "soap box" where political candidates were speaking. Dogged reporters found her anyway; I came later, after a detour through a sheep barn (the "baaaaas" of the sheep were not lost on me), and after spoting an enormous amoeba of boom bikes and cameras moving slowly around two figures.
It was a circus, which wasn't surprising. The irony was that by keeping the visit hush-hush, Palin was limited in the number of people she could talk to. Clued-in fairgoers got into the media scrum to meet her, and exited with signatures and tips.
"Small business!" said one successful autograph seeker. "Get up there and tell her you're a small business owner! She'll talk to you."
But Palin and her husband Todd spent a lot of time answering questions from reporters. When Jake Tapper of ABC News arrived in the scrum, with more cameras, Palin stopped taking ad hoc answers and started an impromptu press conference. She made some news, saying she would probably make up her mind on a 2012 bid by next month, "in fairness to supporters who are standing on the sidelines."
"I don't want to be perceived as stringing people along," she said. "Don't jump on someone else's bandwagon because I might jump in. That's not fair to them."
Before I'd gotten there, Palin had told reporters she was glad to see Rick Perry run for president "even though he wouldn't," and that the governor of Alaska had more power than the governor of Texas. Both true statements, both of which came out during the early part of a media frenzy. By the time I arrived, reporters were repeating the lines at her.
"You seemed to be critical of Rick Perry," started one reporter.
"What did I say?" asked Palin, exasperated. She looked at Scott Conroy, the co-author of the Palin bio Sarah From Alaska, and a diligent reporter on the Palin beat. "Did you do it?"
Conroy fessed up and repeated what she'd said about the powers of governors.
"See, now this is what I don't understand about the press!" said Palin. "You make a statement like that, which I did. You asked me, what's the difference between your experience as governor and Rick Perry's. An I said, there's two different forms of government in the state of Alaska and the state of Texas. Alaska has a very powerful executive position. Texas, it's not as powerful. That does not mean he did a better job or a worse job than any other governor, including myself."
"So it's a distinction," said Conroy. "Isn't that worth reporting?"
"No!" said Palin, turning to talk to someone else about who should win the straw poll.
"I would never tell people who to vote for," she said. "I think Ron Paul still has a great stance of winning the straw poll. I think Herman Cain has a chance, too."
Realizing that Palin's talk had just taken me away from talks by Paul and Tim Pawlenty, I exited the scrum.