DES MOINES, Iowa — Sarah Palin, the telegenic Republican who exasperates and delights voters about equally, is dropping ever more hints of a presidential bid, including a visit Saturday to the key state of Iowa.
The official purpose of her trip to suburban Des Moines is to promote her new book, "America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag." But Democratic and Republican insiders will search for every possible hint of whether she will seek the nomination to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012.
Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee, has fed such speculation in recent days. She told ABC's Barbara Walters she thinks she could beat Obama, adding, "I'm looking at the lay of the land now." [Read more about the 2012 presidential election.]
In a separate interview, Obama told Walters, "I don't think about Sarah Palin." He added that Palin has "a strong base of support in the Republican Party, and I respect those skills."
Palin will attend a second book-signing event next week in Iowa, which holds the nation's first presidential caucuses in 13 months.
Some political pros suspect it's a tease, a way for Palin to keep drawing big crowds to her lucrative TV show and books while avoiding the nitty-gritty work of organizing a national campaign, wooing hard-to-impress caucus voters and raising millions of dollars.
Others warn against underestimating her ambition or her ability to snatch the GOP nomination from a dozen men who covet it.
"She may run away with it, and that's something everybody has to be prepared for," said Mike Huckabee, who won the 2008 Iowa Republican caucus. He is weighing another presidential run, and some feel he wants to set high expectations for a possible rival.
While Palin's fans are loyal and legion, the prospect of her running for president alarms some Republicans. They think Palin is too polarizing and too inexperienced to defeat Obama, even if Republicans in general can maintain the momentum of their powerful performance in this month's midterm elections. [See a roundup of editorial cartoons about Sarah Palin.]
Her foreign policy gaffe Wednesday kept the question alive. She declared on Glenn Beck's syndicated radio show that the United States has to stand with "our North Korean allies" in connection with tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Her mistake was quickly corrected by her host. But it drew immediate fire from liberal bloggers who cited it as an example of her lack of foreign policy expertise. Newspapers in Asia and Europe echoed the criticism. The Times of India says Palin "did it again," while London's Daily Mail says she "may want to brush up on her geography."
The conservative U.S. website The Weekly Standard came to Palin's defense, pointing out that "she correctly identified North Korea as our enemy literally eight seconds before the mix-up."
At home, polls show voters deeply divided over Palin. A recent AP-GfK poll found that 46 percent of Americans view her favorably while 49 percent hold an unfavorable view. The portion holding a "very unfavorable" view heavily outweighs those with a "very favorable" view.
In the poll, 79 percent of self-described Republicans said they like Palin. That suggests she might do well in GOP primaries, although she has some work to do in Iowa.
In exit polls of Iowa Republicans who voted this month, 21 percent said they'd like to see Huckabee win the 2012 caucus. Another 21 percent named Mitt Romney, and 18 percent picked Palin.
Palin has given mixed signals about her intentions. She recently granted interviews to ABC and The New York Times, even as she vowed not to speak again with CBS News anchor Katie Couric, whose 2008 interview left Palin seemingly unable or unwilling to name a newspaper or magazine she reads regularly.
Palin's speeches and book-signing parties typically are carefully controlled affairs, with reporters kept at a distance. But if she is to compete in early voting states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, she will have to mingle with inquisitive voters in scores of living rooms and small gatherings, experienced strategists say.