Top Republicans puzzled by Palin's abrupt resignation

Sarah Palin has no intention of retiring from public life, the soon-to-be ex-Alaska governor's spokeswoman said Sunday, but top Republicans are expressing befuddlement at the decision by one of the party's leading presidential prospects to give up her job.

"It's astounding," Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican said on CBS' Face the Nation. Grassley, whose state holds the crucial first contest of the presidential campaign, said he would welcome a Palin presidential candidacy but thought it might now be harder to launch.

"I would think, if you want to run for president — and I'm not sure that's got anything to do with what she's doing — that the forum of a governorship would be a better forum than just being a private citizen," Grassley said.

Meghan Stapleton, the governor's communications director, told USA TODAY in a phone interview that she expects Palin to remain active as a speaker and campaigner. "I am listening to options for her," she said. Palin's also working to complete memoirs due out next spring.

"She doesn't have a next step decided yet," Stapleton said. "We will just have to wait for history."

Palin, who last year became the Republican Party's first female vice presidential nominee, announced plans to step aside as governor at a hastily organized holiday news conference Friday, citing the toll that her national notoriety has taken on her state, her family and her finances.

But in a Facebook posting the next day, Palin said she wants to "help our nation achieve greatness" by advancing a platform of energy independence, smaller government and enhanced national security.

Over the weekend, Palin moved aggressively to squelch rumors that her surprise decision might have darker motivations. She posted links on her Twitter account to a Los Angeles Times article quoting FBI officials saying that she is not under investigation. Her lawyer, Thomas Van Flein, threatened legal action against reporters and bloggers who suggest any wrongdoing by Palin or her husband, Todd.

Last year's Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, issued a statement expressing "the greatest respect and affection" for his former running mate, and a hope that "she will continue to play an important leadership role in the Republican Party."

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said he'll seek Palin's help this fall for GOP gubernatorial candidates Bob McDonnell in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey.

Other party leaders were not so enthused. Karl Rove, former political adviser to President George W. Bush, said on Fox News Sunday that he and other GOP strategists are "perplexed" by Palin's bombshell. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, another potential 2012 Republican presidential contender, called Palin's strategy "risky."

Even so, SarahPAC, Palin's political action committee, enjoyed a surge of contributions after the governor's announcement, Stapleton said.

Her decision caught many members of her own party flat-footed. "I didn't find out until a newspaper called," said state Rep. Wes Keller, a Palin ally. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski— whose father, former Alaska governor Frank Murkowski, lost the GOP primary to Palin in 2006 — accused Palin of having "decided to abandon the state and her constituents."

Palin's resignation becomes official July 26. She will be succeeded by Alaska's lieutenant governor, Sean Parnell, a Republican.

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