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Palin Seen As Key Player in Republican Party

Following Democrat Barack Obama's victory in last week's presidential election, Republicans have begun a period of self-reflection about what went wrong and how to improve their prospects in the future. Any discussion of the party's future has to include Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who energized social conservatives as John McCain's vice presidential running mate. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Sarah Palin has not exactly shunned the limelight since the Republican ticket lost the election.

Palin was one of the headline speakers at a meeting of Republican governors in Florida.

"So now with the recent elections wrapped up, yup, on the federal level we are now the minority party," she said. "But let us resolve not to become the negative party, too eager to find fault or unwilling to help in this time of crisis and war. Losing an election does not have to mean losing our way."

Palin has also given several interviews in recent days, and clearly sounds interested in the possibility of running for president four years from now.

"I am not ruling that out," she said. "But there again, that is based on my philosophy that it is crazy to close a door before you even know it is open in front of you. You just have to be prepared and when you see opportunity and preparation meet, that is how you know that a door is open and you are ready to go through it."

Sarah Palin is an appealing figure for many in the Republican Party, especially social conservatives. John McCain's decision to pick Governor Palin as his running mate excited social conservatives at the Republican convention.

But a series of television interviews during the presidential campaign raised questions about Palin's experience and readiness for national office.

John Fortier is with the American Enterprise Institute. He is a guest on VOA's Encounter program.

"But she was also very inexperienced and that certainly hurt her," he said. "Initially she had some appeal in the middle, and that dissipated as her inexperience came out. She was very strong with the [Republican] base. But at the end of the day, she was at best a wash and perhaps a small negative as the vice presidential pick."

A "Draft Palin for President" effort is already underway in North Carolina, and some conservative activists see her as a potential presidential nominee in 2012.

David Frum is a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

"But the main thing to do is to get back to the Republican Party of 1994 and reiterate and reaffirm those core convictions under a nominee, possibly like Sarah Palin, or else under an intensified Mitt Romney, someone who can do again what was done in the past," he said.

Some Republicans see Palin as a bright spot in an otherwise bleak political landscape, at least in the short term. Beginning in January, Republicans will be without the White House for the first time in eight years, and will be a reduced minority party in Congress as well.

Political analyst Norman Ornstein says Republicans will be doing some soul-searching in the months ahead, trying to figure out how to better appeal to important voting groups such as moderate suburbanites, Hispanic-Americans, and women.

"And right now, finding a winning coalition, an enduring coalition in regions, in demographic groups or ideologically, is really, really difficult for Republicans," he said.

Republicans will look to begin their comeback two years from now, in the mid-term congressional elections of 2010.

Scot Faulkner, who worked for former President Ronald Reagan and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, says Palin could begin laying the groundwork for a presidential run in 2012 by campaigning for Republican congressional candidates in 2010.

"There is going to be a very lively discussion within the party," he said. "The first one is going to be, who lost the election? Was it because of Bush? Was it because of Palin? Was it because of the Republicans in Congress? So there will be a lot of finger-pointing for the next six months and then people will start focusing on candidates for the off-year [congressional] elections in 2010, and then you will start to see the presidential candidates emerge to help those congressional candidates, and then we are off to the races for the next round."

Social conservatives are clearly excited by the prospect of Sarah Palin running for president one day. But exit polls on Election Day found a majority of voters do not believe Palin has enough experience to be vice president or president, suggesting she has work to do to win over moderate Republicans and independent voters.