ROCK HILL, S.C. — As Sarah Palin ponders whether to run for president, she might want to talk to people in places such as South Carolina.
She'd find her star fading, and her prospects daunting.
Republicans still like her, but now they openly question whether she could or should be nominated for president, let alone elected.
At a recent gathering in South Carolina, the site of a crucial early presidential primary next year, party activists said the former Alaska governor didn't have the experience, the knowledge of issues or the ability to get beyond folksy slang and bumper-sticker generalities that they think is needed to win and govern.
Many are shopping for someone else. They're looking at Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., for example, and seeing what they call a smarter, more experienced candidate who's equally conservative.
"Sarah Palin with a brain," said Gail Moore, a Republican from Columbia.
While national polls show that Palin still would win the support of about one in five Republicans in a national face-off today for the nomination, she no longer can claim the dominant role she enjoyed when she burst out of the 2008 campaign as the undisputed star of the party. She's also losing ground quickly among independents, who hold the keys to the White House.
"Her major weakness is that she needs to bone up on how the government works," said Don Long, a retiree from Lake Wylie, S.C. "I don't know if she's done as much of that as she needs to."
Long was one of about 150 Republicans who showed up for a fundraising dinner of the York County Republican Party. Many already had seen potential candidates in person, such as Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and came this time to hear Bachmann.
In interviews, most volunteered criticism of Palin.
"I like Palin," said Joseph Kejr, a Republican from Rock Hill who works in information technology for a Christian ministry. However, he added, "she's not polished in national government. In terms of leadership, I don't know about her."
Some said Palin hurt herself by quitting halfway through her term as governor of Alaska, robbing herself of a platform in government. Worse for GOP activists, she looks weak against President Barack Obama, a crucial factor for Republicans yearning for a champion who can oust the Democrat from the White House.
A recent McClatchy Newspapers-Marist poll found that Obama would trounce Palin 56 percent to 30 percent if the election were held now.
That was by far the weakest among big-name Republicans tested; Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee fared better against Obama. And it was considerably weaker than her standing a month before, when she trailed Obama 52 percent to 40 percent.
The key reason: She has lost support among independents, and she gets far less support from that swing bloc than the other two Republicans tested do.