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The decision to leave before she had completed her first term is perplexing because her limited experience in a high-level political post was something critics saw as her weakness as Arizona Sen. John McCain’s running-mate last year. Many political handicappers thought she needed to build up a record of accomplishment in office before reaching again for higher office.

Ralph Seekins, a Republican National Committee member from Alaska and friend of both Mrs. Palin and her husband, called the governor’s timing “odd,” announcing a momentous decision the day before the Fourth of July.

Asked whether he thought financial considerations were behind the move, Mr. Seekins said Mrs. Palin “apparently had a good book deal and may need to devote time to getting the book finished for publication, though she has raised considerable sums for her legal defense fund.”

Some analysts saw the move as classic Sarah Palin - confounding Washington’s so-called beltway insiders but one that will play well outside the beltway.

University of Alaska Fairbanks political scientist Jerry McBeath said Mrs. Palin’s gambit could benefit both her and the state.

“Alaska is an isolated stage from which to operate if you want to figure in American national politics,” he told the Associated Press. “I don’t know what she has in mind. Some TV show or some national radio show. There are opportunities for her, I’m sure.”

But others, including veteran political analyst Larry Sabato and Republican strategist Ed Rollins, said they were dumbfounded by the resignation move.

Mr. Rollins called Mrs. Palin in an interview with CNN ” a shooting star” that “just crashed to earth.”

Mr. Recher sees it differently.

The governor’s colorful private life, the media soap opera surrounding her family and her at-times turbulent relations with Mr. McCain and the Washington establishment also may have played a role in Friday’s drama.

Mrs. Palin referred in her remarks to months of politically inspired attacks on ethical issues, attacks she said left her and husband Todd Palin facing $500,000 in legal bills. She was also the subject of a fierce personal assault by mostly unnamed critics in a massive profile in Vanity Fair magazine.

Last month, she generated headlines again in a clash with late-night comedian David Letterman over an off-color joke Mr. Letterman told about the governor’s daughter - for which he apologized later - and for skipping out on a commitment to be the keynote speaker at a Republican fundraising dinner for the House and Senate campaign committees.

In her announcement, Mrs. Palin said it “hurts to make this choice,” but compared herself to a point guard in basketball, a position she herself excelled at in high school.

“A good point guard knows exactly when to pass the ball so the team can win,” she said. “I know when it is time to pass the ball for victory.” She added the decision to step down had been “in the works for a while.”

After first intending to step down next year, Mrs. Palin said she concluded it was better for the state if she resigned immediately.

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