WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin rumbled through Washington on the back of a Harley as she and her family began an East Coast bus tour Sunday that renewed speculation that Mrs. Palin would join the still-unsettled Republican presidential contest.
Wearing a black leather jacket and surrounded by a throng of cheering fans, Mrs. Palin and family members jumped on bikes and joined thousands of other motorcyclists on the Memorial Day weekend ride from the Pentagon to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Mrs. Palin didn't mention politics as she visited with participants, but she smiled broadly when many in the crowd urged her to run.
"How do you wear all this leather and stay cool?" she asked one woman as Mrs. Palin took off a leather jacket and worked her way through a crush of fans, photographers and reporters.
Mrs. Palin remains one of the biggest questions for Republicans, who have not yet settled on a front-runner to challenge President Obama's re-election. While many of Mrs. Palin's likely rivals have worked to build campaign organizations in early nominating states such as Iowa or New Hampshire, Mrs. Palin has taken no concrete steps to begin a presidential campaign.
Given Mrs. Palin's star power, she might be able to wait longer than others. But the clock is ticking, the establishment isn't happy with its options, and one of the earliest tests of campaign infrastructure, the straw poll in Ames, Iowa, is scheduled for August.
Mrs. Palin showed no hints on Sunday that she would join the field, although she again demonstrated her ability to build excitement and practice person-to-person, retail politics. In heels and black flair slacks, Mrs. Palin shook hands and posed for pictures with well-wishers. Just before she, husband Todd and daughter Bristol rolled from the Pentagon's parking lot, she gave a thumbs up to a military police officer who asked if he could snap a picture while taking a break directing traffic.
Mr. Palin, whom Sen. John McCain elevated from an obscure governor to national star, set off from Washington on a tour of East Coast historical sites. Her political committee billed the swing as an opportunity for her family to visit historic sites as they worked their way to New England. It set off speculation she would visit New Hampshire, a state that holds the first nominating primary and a place Mrs. Palin hasn't visited since the final days of the 2008 campaign.
Many of her potential rivals were scheduled to visit New Hampshire in the coming week. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was expected to make formal his bid during a noon barbecue on Thursday. Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani was set to speak at an evening fundraiser for the state GOP. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman — who also rides bikes — is set to spend the weekend working through the state's rural North Country.
Others still could up the race. Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Friday hinted he could come. Former New York Gov. George Pataki is running television ads in New Hampshire and speaking out against Mr. Obama. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has insisted he's not running; his supporters don't believe him.
Mrs. Palin, who resigned the governor's office before completing her first term, has worked to keep a national profile. She's a contributor to Fox News Channel, a best-selling author and reality television star. Her poll numbers have sunk steadily, however, and Mrs. Palin in recent weeks has made changes to her insular circle of advisers.
Mrs. Palin also has taken no evident steps toward the on-the-ground organizing that's central to a real campaign. Yet as she walked through the steamy Pentagon parking lot in her heels and short-sleeved black T-shirt, it was obvious she still has fans eager to snap pictures and get her signature.