MIAMI | Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the spotlight-grabbing star at the gathering of Republican governors, Thursday said carefree spending cost Republicans at the polls, but the party has been loyal to core issues that will win back voters.
In an interview with The Washington Times, Mrs. Palin said Republicans remain strong on national defense, social issues and free markets.
“That is the agenda that is going to build this country back - free-enterprise solutions to the challenges we face, respect for equality and respect for life,” said Mrs. Palin, the vice-presidential candidate on Sen. John McCain’s losing ticket.
But she said Republicans failed to protect the public’s pocketbook, and it cost them when ballots were cast.
“The federal government, led by Republicans, spent too much money, and that was not in the public’s best interest. The public got tired of that and wanted change away from that unrestrained spending,” said Mrs. Palin, who was mobbed by reporters whenever and wherever she appeared during Wednesday and Thursday’s sessions of the Republican Governors Association.
At a press conference with the other governors, she dominated the proceedings - just by being there. Every single question from the assembled press was addressed to her, as a dozen fellow governors stood, smiling but silent, including stars such as South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the incoming chairman of the governors association.
• Click here to watch reporter Ralph Hallow interview Gov. Sarah Palin
During a panel discussion, Mr. Barbour, a former two-term elected chairman of the Republican National Committee, suggested to Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, who is running to become chairman of the House Republican Conference, that the House Republicans meet with one of the party’s governors on a rotating basis once a month to share ideas and understanding. Mr. Pence said he liked the idea, which was in play when Mr. Barbour was national party chairman.
Seventeen of the nation’s 21 Republican governors attended at least some of the RGA annual meeting’s sessions, and although some were split on how to revive the ailing party, few seemed to begrudge the attention accorded Mrs. Palin by a press corps far more numerous than usual for an RGA meeting.
Mrs. Palin attracted larger crowds on the campaign trail than Mr. McCain did, but she was criticized by unnamed members of the campaign for lacking substance and knowledge, and she failed to attract the female voters that her boosters had predicted she would.
One Republican governor was overheard saying that the ability to draw “big crowds isn’t all that matters” in choosing a running mate.
On Thursday, Mrs. Palin’s aides sought to divert reporters’ attention from speculation about a 2012 presidential bid by whispering to members of the press that she is, as one aide put it, “far more interested in how the party fares in 2010 than people think.”
Mr. Pawlenty, thought to have been on Mr. McCain’s shortlist for running mate, told fellow governors that the party needs to widen its membership and appeal but doesn’t have to compromise on its limited-government and social principles to regain majority status.
In a luncheon speech that was well-received by fellow governors, Mr. Pawlenty took what some thought was a shot at Mrs. Palin by saying, “‘Drill, baby, drill’ by itself is not an energy policy. It’s not enough. We’re going to need wind and solar and biomass.”
During her two months of campaigning, Mrs. Palin said repeatedly that she would try to persuade Mr. McCain to end his opposition to drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.
Mr. Pawlenty and Mrs. Palin are considered potential presidential nomination rivals in 2012.
The Minnesota governor several times won applause for observing that Republicans lose when they are seen as co-conspirators with big labor and big business and must instead “reconnect” with working people.
Mr. Pawlenty also took a swipe at what some call the dour McCain faction in the party.
“People don’t want to just hear ‘I’m against earmarks,’ and ‘we need to get back to things,’” the Minnesotan said, adding that the public wants a party that looks forward and has solutions to questions such as, “How can I pay for college, fill up my gas tank?”
Mrs. Palin echoed Mr. Pawlenty’s plea that the party not let itself continue to be seen as a frowningly negative collection of finger waggers.
“With the recent election wrapped up, we are the minority party. But let us not be negative party,” she said. “Losing an election does not mean losing our way. I promise you America will be looking to their governors.”
Another potential 2012 presidential contender is Mr. Sanford, a McCain supporter in 2000 and this year. Mr. Sanford said the RGA conference seemed to focus on the superior use of the Internet by Barack Obama and the Democrats, rather than the Republican Party’s problem.
“Outreach tools are important, but they’re secondary to what the brand is about,” Mr. Sanford said.
Mrs. Palin continues to take a beating in much of the press for what anonymous critics say she did on the campaign trail.
But during the panel discussion, Mr. Pence called Mrs. Palin the most dignified vice-presidential candidate he had seen in his lifetime.
Afterward, Mrs. Palin was asked in the interview with The Times whether Mr. Pence would be on her shortlist to be her vice-presidential running mate in 2012 and whether that list might also include a high-profile woman - such as “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric.
Mrs. Palin pretended to ponder the question, then said with laugh, “Oh, I think Mike has said a lot nicer things about me than Katie Couric has, so - it’ll be Mike.”