Pawlenty, in particular, has been one of the most active visitors, traveling to Iowa at least five times in the last year with plans to return in October. The Minnesota governor reportedly even has sent a full-time aide to the early primary state to begin organizing his political operation there.
But in a recent survey of 399 likely Republican Iowa caucus-goers commissioned by the Iowa Republican website, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the 2008 Iowa caucuses as a presidential candidate, was the favorite potential 2012 hopeful. He was followed by Romney, Gingrich and Palin -- in that order.
Meanwhile, Iowa Democrats are using Palin's Friday visit to rally their own troops. As former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe put it at the annual steak fry hosted by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, in Indianola last weekend, Palin will be the "very best organizer and fundraiser the Democratic Party" has this election season.
Taking Plouffe's cue, the Iowa Democratic Party has been trying to organize supporters to pledge to volunteer a total of 945 hours for the party, one hour for each day Palin served as Alaska's governor.
Palin, of course, has been doing quite a bit of her own fundraising, raking in around $866,000 in the second quarter of this year for her political action committee, SarahPAC. She's also been hitting the airwaves as a commentator for Fox News, posting regular updates on her Facebook and Twitter pages, preparing to roll out a television documentary and a new book in the fall, and crisscrossing the country for speaking appearances.
"She's riding high right now," said Gross, who will be at Friday night's fundraiser in Des Moines to see Palin. "She's coming out here at a time when she's hot."