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ROBERT SMITH, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Robert Smith in for Scott Simon.

And we begin this hour with politics - two stories about the changing face of the Republican Party. The unexpected victory of Tea Party candidates in state primaries this week is changing the electoral calculus for control of Congress. We'll have those numbers coming up.

But first, Sarah Palin spoke in Iowa last night at the State Republican Party's annual Ronald Reagan dinner. It's often considered an early step on the path to the White House, but as NPR's Brian Naylor reports, Palin was coy about her own political future.

BRIAN NAYLOR: There was a buzz in HyVee Hall in downtown Des Moines, almost like a sporting event.

Unidentified Man: Palin shirts, $10. Palin buttons, Palin shirts, $10.

NAYLOR: Some 1,400 Iowa Republicans, the biggest crowd the party's annual Reagan dinner has ever drawn, streamed into the hall to see the GOP's biggest star. Wearing her trademark red, Sarah Palin told a bit of a joke about wanting to go jogging in the warm Iowa sun earlier in the afternoon. She said her husband Todd told her she should use the hotel treadmill instead.

Ms. SARAH PALIN (Former Alaska Governor): Why would I want to stay indoors? Todd says, 'cause I guarantee you, if anyone spots you in the tennis shoes, the headline's going to be - Vanity Fair - they're going to say, Palin in Iowa decides to run.

NAYLOR: Palin clearly had a recent unflattering profile of her in Vanity Fair on her mind as she spent a good portion of her speech castigating what she calls the lamestream media for relying on unnamed sources.

Ms. PALIN: First, remember that they are cowards, usually in some self-preservation mode striving for personal power. And the journalists perpetuating the problem, the untruths, they are gutless. They erode our faith in this once-proud bedrock of our democracy, America's free press.

NAYLOR: But Palin's main theme was a call for Republicans to get behind the candidates who won their primaries. Many of them, including last week's surprise winner of the Delaware Senate primary, Christine O'Donnell, were opposed by the Republican establishment and backed by Palin.

Ms. PALIN: If the goal really is to take away the gavel from Pelosi and Reid and to stop the Obama agenda and make government respect the will of the people and the wisdom of the people, then it is time to unite.

NAYLOR: Palin blasted the Obama administration, saying it believes the answer to every problem is another federal program. She chided the president for now supporting business tax cuts she said were part of the McCain-Palin platform in 2008, and said his foreign policy was foolish.

Ms. PALIN: It's the voters who will stop these leftist policies; the voters will stop this fundamental transformation of America that is not good for America. It's the patriots who will restore America.

NAYLOR: The red meat delighted Iowa Republicans. Mary Kramer is a former state senator and U.S. ambassador.

Ms. MARY KRAMER (Former Iowa State Senator): I wanted to stand up and say, you go, girl.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NAYLOR: Would you like to see her run in two years?

Ms. KRAMER: Oh sure, if that's the direction she wants to go. I just, it's a little early for me, but yeah. I think she has the message and the courage to do what needs to be done.

NAYLOR: Roger Ray, a retired police chief from Early, Iowa, liked the speech, but isn't sure if he wants to see Palin on the ballot in 2012.

Mr. ROGER RAY (Retired Police Chief): Actually, I'd like to see Sarah doing what she's doing: rally the troops. I dearly love Sarah but I just don't think she's got the electable qualities that we're(ph) still going to need to carry. But she'll be the voice of the party that will help get whoever's in there.

NAYLOR: Palin gave no hint of her plans beyond this fall. Asked after her speech when she planned on returning to Iowa, she said soon, but quickly added she wants to get to Delaware very soon and start knocking on doors.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Des Moines.

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