- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sarah Palin went back to Alaska on Tuesday to vote. But regardless of whether she returns there permanently after the election, in the case of an Obama victory, the governor promises to be a national Republican figure for the next four years.

As vice president, she would be acquire the gravity and knowledge that come with serving in the office.

In the event of a loss, however, she would be free from the constraints of McCain handlers and image makers and could mount her own quest for the leadership mantle of the Republican Party.

Already before Tuesday’s results, as pundits and pollsters began to predict an Obama victory, Mrs. Palin was facing questions about whether she might one day run for president.

But despite enthusiasm among conservative Republicans, such a road would be a difficult one, said Michael Carey, an Anchorage Daily News columnist with many years of experience in Alaska politics.

“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,” he said.

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 during a bleak stretch. That would serve her well if she and presidential candidate John McCain were to lose by giving her the opportunity to build herself into a candidate for 2012.

And the governor would 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.”

Chief among those key decisions would 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 national public’s eye, such as the chairperson 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, would need people with national experience. But she would likely 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 would 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 Republican Governors Association.

The RGA chairman travels the country at the organization’s expense - not on the taxpayer dime - raising money and holding policy summits. The problem is that the RGA is holding its annual summit, where it will nominate a new chairman to replace Texas Gov. Rick Perry, one week after the election.

Yet 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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