Sarah Palin in Iowa
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin waves after speaking at the Republican Party of Iowa's Ronald Reagan Dinner on Friday, Sept. 17, 2010, in Des Moines. Photo by Charlie Neibergall - Associated Press

Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor and current tea party sweetheart, is coming to Madison Saturday to serve as keynote speaker for the now-annual tea party Tax Day Rally.

Thousands are expected to turn out at the Capitol for the rally, which is scheduled to run from noon to 2 p.m. and feature a series of conservative speakers, including radio personality Vicki McKenna, Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund, talk show host John T. Harris, and Americans for Prosperity State Director Matt Seaholm.

But none of those speakers can match the original Mama Grizzly for sizzle factor. Her attendance at the event immediately turns it into a national story — especially given the amount of attention Wisconsin has received over Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial plans to limit public sector collective bargaining.

“Sarah Palin is a name to conjure with,” said Charles Franklin, UW-Madison political science professor. “She brings national attention and excites the base. But she will also attract more opposition.”

Saturday looks to be a very busy day Downtown. Along with the tea party rally, the Capitol Square will host a counter-rally as well as the season’s first Dane County Farmers’ Market.

Farmers’ Market manager Larry Johnson said he expects all of his vendors to show up, but he isn’t sure what the protest will mean for turnout.

“I don’t know if they will be buying from us, or getting in the way,” Johnson said.

A press release from Americans for Prosperity sent Thursday leaves little doubt why organizers are excited to have Palin at the rally. Conservative leaders hope the former vice presidential candidate will energize their base and spur voters to support the eight GOP senators facing recall elections.

Those lawmakers have come under attack for supporting Walker’s collective bargaining measure.

“Governor Palin is a strong voice for taxpayers and for reforming government to make it more accountable,” Seaholm said. “She doesn’t pull punches and is one of the most influential and followed commentators in politics today.”

Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairman Mike Tate said Palin was an early Walker supporter, so it makes sense for her to come to Wisconsin.

“The question now becomes, ‘Do the eight Republican senators facing recall election stand with Sarah Palin as she lavishes praise over the Scott Walker union-busting, anti-family agenda?’” he said.

A spokesman for the governor said he is not scheduled to attend the event.

Palin has occasionally weighed in on Wisconsin politics this year, endorsing incumbent Supreme Court Justice David Prosser and accusing “union bosses” of leading Madison protesters astray.

Prosser, often linked to Walker, was heavily favored going into his re-election bid. But it took a cache of previously unreported votes last week to give him a slim, albeit unofficial, lead over challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg.

The race, which attracted almost 1.5 million voters, was seen by many as a referendum on Walker’s law. The election’s outcome has many Republicans looking over their shoulder.

Of the eight Republican senators facing possible recall, opponents have already filed signatures with the state Government Accountability Board to trigger recall elections for Sen. Dan Kapanke, R-La Crosse, and Sen. Randy Hopper, R-Fond du Lac. Eight Democratic senators are also facing possible recalls.