It could be an observation of the current state of the Republican presidential race or a hint to her own aspirations, but former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin says there’s “room for more” competitors in the G.O.P field.

Palin stopped at The Machine Shed restaurant in Urbandale tonight where people who heard Palin might be coming crowded into the sprawling restaurant’s gift shop, bar and dining rooms.  As Palin walked in the front door, a reporter asked Palin how she felt about “the current field of candidates.”

Palin said she was “happy with the field of candidates” but she quickly added: “I always think that there’s room for more, though, because spirited debate and more competition will allow an even better discourse and a more rigorous discourse that the public deserves.”

Another reporter asked Palin if she would give an “answer” Saturday as to whether she intends to seek the GOP’s 2012 presidential nomination, as Palin is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at an outdoor “Tea Party of America” rally in Indianola, Iowa, but Palin didn’t answer the second question. She chatted with the people who had gathered in the restaurant gift shop, including a man wearing an “Alaska” t-shirt.

“Nice t-shirt,” Palin said, smiling.  “What’s your name?”

His name is Mitch Bailey of Ames. He was in the restaurant to celebrate his brother’s birthday and once the news of Palin’s visit spread, he knew the t-shirt was his ticket to meeting her in person.

“She’s cool,” Bailey said a few minutes after shaking Palin’s hand.  “She asked my name — a real nice lady.” 

People in the crowd screamed when Palin walked through the front door. A woman standing near a refrigerated case full of pies and “Dang!” root beer told Palin, ‘You go, girl” after shaking the former Alaska governor’s hand.  Palin had been in the restaurant for less than two minutes when the crowd started chanting: “Run, Sarah, Run!”

Many of the people in the crowd heard of the event through two groups, “Conservatives4Palin” and “Organize4Palin.”  Timothy Jacques of Bellevue, Nebraska, describes himself as a local “O4P” coordinator and he likes a lot of things about Palin.

“(Her) conservatism, her belief system, and just a feeling of confidence from her which I see lacking in a lot of Republicans these days,” said Jacques, who drove about two hours to see Palin.

Palin’s appearance was a surprise to others, like nine-year-old Matayah Taylor of Fort Dodge. “Everybody was crowded around her and a lady let me through and I got to shake hands with her,” Taylor said. 

Palin did not speak to the crowd which had gathered in a restaurant dining room, but she spent more than half an hour working her way through the establishment, signing autographs, shaking hands and posing for pictures before leaving the restaurant with her husband and two aides.