- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Sarah Palin will have to go back to Alaska. But America should find out soon whether Tina Fey’s impression of the Republican governor over the weekend was prophetic.

“I’m not going anywhere,” the comedian impersonating Mrs. Palin on “Saturday Night Live” said.

“I’m certainly not going back to Alaska. If I’m not going to the White House, I’m either running in four years or I’m gonna be a white Oprah so, you know, I’m good either way.”

Kidding aside, the reality is that now that Mrs. Palin is free from the constraints of McCain handlers and image makers, she is free to mount her own quest for the leadership mantle of the Republican Party.

Already before Tuesday’s Obama victory, Mrs. Palin was facing questions about whether she might one day run for president.

“It’s going to be difficult,” said Michael Carey, the former editorial page editor of the Anchorage Daily News.

“If you’ve been getting a lot of bad reviews and the polling data is what it is, I just don’t quite figure out how it makes you the automatic leader of your party.”

A recent CNN poll showed that barely more than a third of at least 1,000 people interviewed by phone said Mrs. Palin has the leadership qualities to be president.

But Mrs. Palin has been, for many Republicans, the bright spot of a bleak campaign. That should give her the opportunity to build herself into a candidate for 2012.

And the governor will have a few years to rebuild her reputation where it is weak, particularly on her grasp of fiscal and foreign policy.

“You had a lot of grass-roots, working, blue-collar Republicans that instinctively latched on to Sarah Palin and they defend her, rightly so,” said Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, Michigan Republican. “So what her future is in many ways is up to what she does. It’s what she does with it.”

Chief among those key decisions will be forming an inner circle of advisers that mixes old Alaska hands and those with national experience, and finding vehicles that could keep her in the added thenational public’s eye, such as the chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association.

“She is a really smart, very skilled politician. She needs to tell her own story,” said longtime Republican strategist Mary Matalin.

Mrs. Palin reportedly has clashed with top McCain advisers Nicole Wallace and Tucker Eskew, who were tasked with keeping her on a tight leash.

The governor, post-McCain, will need people with national experience. But she is likely to start her rebuilding process with the people who were closest to her before she was plucked from relative obscurity and plopped into the center of the national spotlight.

That inner circle will likely begin with at least two people, and perhaps a third.

Her husband, Todd, is “someone she relies on for advice a lot,” said a senior McCain hand who worked on her behalf throughout the campaign.

“He’s not a shallow guy. He has a keen sense of politics,” the McCain official said.

Then there is the question of how to maintain a national profile during an Obama administration. One option would be to pursue the chairmanship of the RGA.

A top aide in a key Republican governor’s office said a sudden move by Mrs. Palin to take the RGA’s top spot might be possible.

“She’s very popular among the governors so I don’t think it would be out of the question. Whether it could happen a week after the election, I don’t know.”

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