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Palin, Other GOP Governors Vie For 2012 Limelight

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks Thursday during the Republican Governors Association conference in Miami.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images
Getty Images
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks Thursday during the Republican Governors Association conference in Miami.

The future of the Republican Party is on display this week in Miami, where the Republican Governors Association Annual Conference is taking place.

Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin spoke there Thursday — as did several other GOP up-and-comers.

The conference comes at a critical time for the party, just nine days after its worst loss in decades. This is the first time in 14 years that Republicans do not control the White House, the House or the Senate. This, in part, helps explain why an event that usually attracts a few dozen political reporters drew at least 200 this year.

The other draw was Thursday's featured speaker, Palin, who kicked off her speech at the annual fall meeting with a joke.

"It hasn't been that long since we last gathered," she said. "And I don't know about you, but I managed to fill up the time. I had a baby. I did some traveling. I very briefly expanded my wardrobe."

One reason for the media interest, of course, involves Palin's future. She fueled speculation about her plans during several recent interviews in which she suggested that she would consider a run for the White House in 2012.

She's not alone. You could hardly turn around this week without running into someone who is being touted as a possible Republican presidential candidate, including Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Although Palin said she was done looking back at the last presidential campaign, she is not yet ready to begin looking at the next one.

"We're focused on the future, and the future for us is not that 2012 presidential race," she said. "It's next year and our next budgets and the next reforms in our states, and it's 2010 when we'll have 36 governors' positions open across the U.S."

Palin's Remarks

Palin also seemed to be trying to put some of the last campaign's harsh rhetoric behind her.

She had kind words for President-elect Barack Obama, saying that she wished him well and that his election was "a shining moment in American history."

But Palin also said that if the Democratic-controlled Congress or the White House overreached in areas such as taxes, health care or energy policy, it would be up to Republican governors to keep them in line.

That's a point on which South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford agreed. It's a new era for the GOP, he said, and it will be up to the states to put the party's core principles — lower taxes, less government, state's rights and strong defense — into practice.

"I think this is, first of all, going to be a definitional time both within the Congress, within the governorship, within the GOP at large," he said. "And then from a standpoint of advancing policy so that you show a different route, it's going to be on the forefront of the governors' tables and really the governors' responsibility."

Some governors such as Pawlenty and Utah's Jon Huntsman called for retooling the Republican Party to appeal to younger voters, Hispanics and African-Americans.

But Palin and other conservatives have a different focus. They believe the way back for the GOP is not to change its message but to return to its core principles. The party has gone astray, Palin said, and she places the blame on Republican leaders in Washington.

Leaders there "spent public money in disregard of the public interest, just like the opponents they used to criticize," she said. "They got too comfortable in power. Maybe they forgot why they were sent to Washington and who they were sent to serve."

It was a theme picked up on by other governors. As Rick Perry of Texas put it, Republicans lost the election because of "D.C. values displayed by leaders who don't reflect the party."

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Greg Allen
As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.
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