In case anyone needed an example of the drawing power and political energy that Sarah Palin wields, the Detroit Free Press report on the start of her book tour should fill the gap nicely.  Despite freezing temperatures, people gathered by the hundreds early this morning to greet Palin in person at a Grand Rapids bookstore.  By 5 am, five hundred people stood outside the Barnes & Noble — and two hours later, the numbers had swelled to 1500:

And that’s 4:55 this morning when the thermometer had dipped into the 30s. But the 500 or so people in line didn’t mind the sleepless night or the onset of winter.

“What she represents is what we’re standing in line for,” said Robin Case, 44, of Traverse City, who set up a chair and sleeping bag at 9 p.m. Tuesday to make sure she got the chance to meet Sarah Palin, former Alaska Governor and vice presidential candidate. “She’s real and she’s standing up for what we believe in.”

Palin was scheduled to begin her “Going Rogue” book tour at the Barnes & Noble Booksellers in suburban Grand Rapids.

By 7 a.m., the line had swelled to more than 1,500 people as Barnes & Noble wrapped orange wristbands around Palin fans’ wrists.

Most authors would be pleased to get 1500 people in total to show up for a book tour.  (Heck, most authors would kill to sell 1500 books.)  Even the Lord of the Rings openings didn’t attract 1500 fans for a 7 am show.  Star Wars didn’t get this kind of response.  And if Massachusetts is any indicator, not even Barack Obama can pack a house like this any more.

Sarah Palin is a phenomenon, and the release of her book proves it.  Even the media that loves to deride her has spent the past few days obsessing over her — so much so that Jamie Weinstein wonders whether the media knows that there are other stories to cover.  We didn’t see anything like this when Ted Kennedy’s memoirs were published posthumously, nor when the Clinton memoirs came out.

Yesterday, I spoke with NPR’s Mara Liasson about the Palin phenomenon.  Liasson asked me about Palin’s prospects in 2012, but I responded that the 2010 midterms would be the first indicator of what Palin intends:

Meanwhile, Morrissey thinks she is right to focus on electing Republicans in 2010. Endorsing candidates, raising money and energizing the party base will give Palin a big platform and a way to showcase her clout inside the GOP.

“What will be telling for Sarah Palin is what kind of impact she’s going to have on the midterm elections — where she’s helpful, where she’s not helpful,” he says.

“I think that will give us all a much better idea of where Sarah Palin can go in 2012 or in 2016 or in 2020,” Morrissey says.

The momentum of the book sales takes Palin right into the 2010 primaries.  Where will she campaign, and for whom?  Will Palin drive turnout?  Will she stick with safe, conservative districts, or attempt to lock horns in swing districts?  That will be a key to see where Palin sees herself on the political stage and what ambitions she might have for the future.