DES MOINES — There’s an old adage in politics that no one visits Iowa by accident.

Regardless of her motivation for accepting, it was no accident the Republican Party of Iowa invited Sarah Palin to headline its fall fundraiser Sept. 17.

“It’s a coup,” GOP Chairman Matt Strawn said Tuesday.

Given all the other invitations the former governor of Alaska and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee receives, including those from other groups in Iowa, “we’re tickled that she chose to participate in our event,” Strawn said.

“I think it says that she understands the opportunities Iowa Republicans have this November and wants to be a part of helping us recapture the governor’s office, the legislative majority and, hopefully, taking out a Democratic incumbent member of Congress or two,” he said.

He’s not worried that Palin, who has become a political lightning rod since bursting onto the national scene two years ago as U.S. Sen. John McCain’s running mate, will be a liability for the party, doing as much to fire up the Democratic base as the Republican activists.

“Given the challenges facing Iowa at the moment, if Democrats want to make our dinner speaker the focal point of their campaign, I think that’s an awful faulty strategy,” Strawn said.

Iowa Democratic Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky won’t argue with that.

“I’m not going to characterize anyone else’s dinner guest,” the Coralville Democrat said. “We’re headed into a serious election, and the end result is serious business for the people of Iowa.”

Dvorsky thinks it’s worth asking, however, whether Palin’s message is the GOP message.

“If Sarah Palin is the keynote speaker for their biggest event of the year, I think it’s absolutely fair to ask how her message fits in with Terry Branstad’s and Chuck Grassley’s message,” she said. “We’re comfortable answering questions about our guests.”

It may be fair to ask, but retired University of Iowa political science professor Brice Groenbeck cautions there’s a limit on how far Democrats want to go in attacking Palin.

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“Sure, the Democrats can take shots at her, but they have to be careful not to anger people who just have a casual interest in her,” he said. “When you attack her, you give her credibility.”

In a mid-term election, when there’s no presidential race to fire up voters, parties have to “push all the buttons you can,” Groenbeck said, but “looking for a wild hair connection to her may be dangerous.”

“I think the world has discovered you can’t screw around too much with Sarah Palin without possibly getting yourself into a little trouble,” he said.

That doesn’t apply to another GOP star attraction, Newt Gingrich, who will be traveling back to Iowa in September, Groenbeck said.

Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker, will speak Sept. 9 at a Team Iowa PAC luncheon at the Jack Trice Club in Ames.

He comes in as a more serious ideologue,” Groenbeck said. “He’s been under attack for nigh on two decades and he, himself, plays an awful rough game. So (Democrats) are likely to hit harder.”