Governors caught in glare of Palin spotlight

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist during the conference Thursday Miami.

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Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist during the conference Thursday Miami.

MIAMI — Gov. Sarah Palin seized the spotlight Thursday from her fellow Republican governors, 12 of whom awkwardly stood behind her as she continued a high-profile effort to repair her battered image.

The Alaska governor did something she never did in two months as the Republican vice-presidential candidate: She held a news conference, a six-minute event with only four questions in which she refused to look back.

"I don't even want to talk about strategy within a campaign that is over," she said.

Palin then gave a 22-minute speech to the Republican Governors Association that dwelt on the recent campaign. It began and ended with standing ovations and occupied a larger chunk of speaking time than other governors had here.

Reflecting on her recent experiences, Palin said to loud laughter: "I had a baby. I did some traveling. I very briefly expanded my wardrobe."

She appeared relaxed as she recalled the young girls at rallies inspired by her candidacy, and a Floridian named Charlie who has Down's syndrome like her son Trig. She mentioned Joe the Plumber, too.

Palin also joined in the criticism among governors of Washington Republicans whose pork-barrel spending and runaway deficits were blamed for causing last week's losses. In addition to Sen. John McCain's loss in the presidential race, Democrats gained dozens of seats in Congress.

"They got too comfortable with power. Maybe they forgot why they were sent to Washington and who they were sent to serve," she said.

Palin urged fellow governors to use "the power of example" to create jobs, cut taxes and make government smarter.

Her star presence in Miami appeared to be part of an effort to bury the labels of "diva" and "whack job," planted by disgruntled McCain campaign aides in recent news stories, that she'll have to overcome if she is to have a future in national politics. But Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi tamped down talk of 2012 as wildly premature, and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said in a round of TV interviews that Palin will have a lot of company if she runs for president.

"There are going to be a lot of other governors here in the conversations we're having in Miami who, again, have very strong feelings on what ought to come next," Sanford said on CNN.

Palin's dominance here — "Sarahpalooza," a TV reporter called it — came a day after various GOP governors and pundits dissected the failure of the McCain-Palin ticket to connect with women, Hispanics, African-Americans and most of all young voters.

Palin's own shortcomings, such as her perceived lack of qualifications for high national office among many voters and her limited appeal to moderates and independents, were never mentioned.

Asked at her news conference how the GOP can build support among women and Hispanics, she said in her now-familiar delivery: "I treat everybody equally — women, Hispanics. I am going to work with this group of governors to serve all Americans, individually, in all of our states, our residents."

If her fellow governors were annoyed by Palin overshadowing them, they didn't let on.

"No, not at all," Gov. Charlie Crist said. "She carried the banner for our party extraordinarily well. It was a tough campaign."

Crist was one of the few governors not around to pose with Palin before nearly two dozen TV cameras. He said he was working on a dinner speech.

As for whether Palin has a future as a national Republican leader, Crist said: "That's up to the people."

As governors emphasize the need for the Republican Party to be more inclusive and diverse, the last thing they need is to be seen giving the cold shoulder to Palin. Rather, they said, she's a good story for the governors' group.

"The key is, we had a governor on the ticket," said Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, who won re-election last week in a state Barack Obama won overwhelmingly. "She was the only one of the four national candidates with executive experience … and she certainly energized a lot of voters."

Even a Democrat at the conference praised Palin's speech as a big improvement over her campaign persona.

"That was from the heart. She was humorous and warm — an entirely different person than you saw at the end of the campaign," said Steve Uhlfelder, a Tallahassee lawyer-lobbyist and strong Obama supporter.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Governors caught in glare of Palin spotlight 11/13/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 8:36pm]

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