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Sarah Palin causes stir at Rolling Thunder

Former U.S. Vice Presidential candidate and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin rides on the back of a motorcycle before participating in 'Rolling Thunder' rally May 29, 2011 in Arlington, Virginia. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Last Updated: 9:51 PM ET

Riding onto the scene on the back of a Harley-Davidson, Sarah Palin made a dramatic entrance Sunday at a much-anticipated appearance with the Rolling Thunder bike rally in Arlington, Virginia, an early stop on her recently-launched national bus tour.

The annual motorcycle ride, part of a two-day effort by the Rolling Thunder nonprofit organization, means to draw attention to American troops who have gone missing in combat and remain unaccounted for. Hundreds of participants ride in support of the cause yearly.

Palin did not give a speech during her appearance, but said, when asked about the significance of the event, that it was important to honor men and women in uniform.

The former Alaska governor was joined by her husband, Todd, and daughters Bristol and Piper, the whole family riding in on motorcycles. (Todd helmed a black and burgundy cycle with Piper on the back, and Bristol and the former vice presidential candidate each rode on the back of separate bikes.)

Speculation has been building in recent days about Palin's intentions regarding a presidential bid - particularly in light of her announcement regarding the bus tour, as well as the revelation that she cooperated in producing a full-length documentary about her political rise.

But when asked whether or not she was planning to jump into the race, Palin said, "I don't know yet."


She and her family spent about 20 minutes shaking hands and taking photos with people in the crowd.

The former governor's participation received mix reviews from Rolling Thunder organizers and participants, according to the Washington Post.

"I'm very not appreciative of the way she came in here," Ted Shpak, Rolling Thunder's national legislative director, told the Post. "If she wanted to come on the ride, she should have come in the back."

Rolling Thunder rider Mark Posey added, in an interview with the Post, that the event was not the place to launch a presidential campaign: "I think she has no reason to be involved in this," he said of Palin. "If she's launching her campaign to run for president, I don't think this is the place to start."

Not everyone felt that way: Gerri Tramel, president of one of Rolling Thunder's Tennessee chapters, told ABC News that the involvement of high-profile political figures would likely boost the profile of the event.

"Anybody that's involved - Republican, Democrat, independent, whatever - if you're involved with our veterans, I think that's wonderful. Not just Sarah Palin - anyone that's a politician," Tramel said.

CBS News political consultant John Dickerson said Palin is testing the waters with her bus tour. However, if she doesn't run for the presidency her brand will be in good shape and she will be a force in the Republican party (see the video below). If she does run, Palin will need to bring more independent voters to her side. At this juncture, he favorable numbers even within the Republican party have been going down. The bus tour will test Bus whether Palin can improve her image in her own party, Dickerson said.

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