Sarah Palin dropped into town Tuesday, and commotion followed.
In this picturesque home to 10,000 people, most notable as the site of the tallest working windmill in the United States — a reminder of its Dutch settlers — the whirl of activity that has attended Palin time and again this summer whirled again.
The street was blocked off in front of the historic opera house where a movie about Palin’s political career premiered. Hundreds of people and a crush of media gathered to sneak a peek at Palin, who greeted the crowd as she arrived alongside her husband, Todd.
“It’s so warm, literally and otherwise. It’s so nice, the gift of hospitality that Pella has and all of Iowa has. It’s wonderful,” Palin told reporters gathered in the opera house lobby. “I’m glad people want to be here to share this documentary on the record of a great team that worked very hard for energy security and ethics reform in the state of Alaska.”
More than a few people were there for quite another reason, of course: the presidential campaign that the former Alaska governor has said she is mulling. Praise for Iowa often flows from those running for president, but Palin did little to clarify her intentions other than to declare that such a bid would be “life-changing” and “earth-shattering.”
“It’s a tough decision; it’s a big decision to decide whether to run for office or not. I’m still contemplating,” Palin said.
She brushed aside a comment her daughter Bristol made on a television news program in which she indicated that Palin had made a decision.
“Bristol is a smart and independent and strong young woman. Listen to her,” Palin said. “I told Bristol, when I heard that, I said, ‘Bristol, what we say on the fishing boat stays on the fishing boat!’ ”
If Palin’s presence in the state that is home to the first voting of the presidential season wasn’t enough to fan speculation about 2012, Palin herself set off a new round earlier in the day when she was spotted lunching in Urbandale with a prominent Iowa fundraiser. But the state GOP chairman said he had had no contact with Palin’s people, nor had he heard that she would be meeting with party kingmakers.
Palin’s visit came on the same day that President Obama arrived in Bettendorf to visit a manufacturing plant and a day after Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann formally kicked off her Republican campaign in Waterloo. Reflecting its political-center-of-the-universe standing, Palin pledged to spend a lot of time in Iowa if she did decide to run.
Some of those who gathered in Pella said they had figured it would be the unofficial start of Palin’s presidential bid.
“I came up to support Sarah Palin. I thought this was going to be the kickoff for her campaign,” said Del Parker, 64, a rare-coins dealer who traveled from Dallas for the event. He said he had admired Palin since she became the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008.
“I just think that she fulfills the great need this country has to right itself and get rid of all this corruption,” Parker said.
Robert Reichart, 69, and wife Carol, 65, were visiting their son in Ankeny and decided to drive an hour to Pella to see if they could get tickets to the film.
“She just has magnetism,” said Reichart, a retired teacher from Minnesota. “Contrary to what the liberal media says, I think she is very knowledgeable. She’s a take-charge person. And she’s very beautiful.”
As far as tickets went, they were out of luck. More than 300 tickets to “The Undefeated” were distributed to local Republicans, community leaders and others.
Before the film debuted in the opera house, with its tin ceiling and stained glass windows, the crowd prayed and pledged allegiance to the flag. The screening of the feature-length film was closed to the press, but loud cheers could be heard emanating from the theater.
Afterward, Palin greeted supporters who had gathered outside, signing autographs and snapping pictures. As is her custom, Palin paid special attention to special-needs children and their families, and took particular delight in greeting a young girl who shares the name of her youngest daughter, Piper, and a woman who was nine months pregnant with her fourth child.
But it was not all small-town charm: As a crush of media trailed Palin, her security detail shoved cameramen away.
Palin described the film as a “vindication of my record” and a way to fight the “false narratives out there” about herself and her family. (“The Undefeated” will open in 10 cities across the country, including Orange, on July 15.)
“It will blow you away. It was awesome. It’s all about American values,” she said before heading into a private barbecue with about 1,000 supporters in Franklin Square, leaving at least one question unanswered.