Sarah Palin’s ride through Washington on a Harley-Davidson Inc. (HOG) motorcycle yesterday as part of the Rolling Thunder “Ride for Freedom” put her back in the national spotlight as the race for the Republican presidential nomination is revving up.

The former Alaska governor joined about 400,000 bikers for the annual ride, which coincided with the first leg of a bus tour that is renewing speculation about her 2012 White House ambitions.

Palin, who had no official speaking role at the event, arrived wearing a helmet and rode on the back of a Harley from the Pentagon toward the Vietnam War Memorial. Rolling Thunder, which began in 1988, was established by Vietnam veterans to draw attention to missing service members and prisoners of war. Palin’s husband, Todd, and daughters Piper and Bristol also took part in the ride.

In a posting on her political action committee website, the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate said Rolling Thunder, through the roar of tens of thousands of bike engines, keeps alive the Memorial Day spirit of honoring veterans.

Palin’s campaign-style “One Nation Tour” by bus from Washington through New England could be a prelude to a bid for the Republican nomination — or an effort to command the spotlight as the competition heats up.

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