Palin's Future? Grandma Governor, for Now

Gov. Sarah Palin paused in Arizona before heading home to Alaska today and dismissed any suggestion that her presence on the Republican ticket cost Sen. John McCain the presidency.

The McCain candidacy was crushed under the weight of the country's economic crisis, not the presence of Sarah Palin, she said.

"I don't think anybody should give Sarah Palin that much credit... that my presence on the ticket would trump the economic crisis that America found itself in a couple of months ago and attribute John McCain's loss to me," Palin said this morning in the lounge of the Arizona Biltmore Hotel.

"Now having said that, if I cost John McCain even one vote, I'm sorry about that because John McCain, I believe, is the American hero," she said. "I had believed that it was his time."

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To many Republicans, Palin is not a loser and not a handicap. She is the future of the Republican Party.

Even McCain praised Palin, despite surveys like a recent ABC News poll that found 46 percent of voters said her presence on the ticket made them less likely to support McCain.

During his concession speech Tuesday night, McCain called Palin "an impressive new voice in our party for reform," and said, "We can all look forward with great interest to her future service to Alaska, the Republican Party and our country."

As she heads back to Alaska today, Palin declined to speculate about her political future four years from now.

"2012 sounds like years away. What will we be doing then? Enrolling Trig in kindergarten," Palin said of her 6-month-old son.

Palin still has two years to serve of her first term as governor of Alaska and, if she chose, she could run for a second term.

She could also aim for a U.S. Senate seat in two years if she wanted to challenge a fellow Republican. Sen. Lisa Murkowski's seat is up in 2010. Palin took on and defeated Murkowski's father, former Gov. Frank Murkowski, in Alaska's Republican gubernatorial primary in 2006 to win her current position.

But after voting in her hometown of Wasilla on Tuesday, Palin hinted that she may have a role in national politics again.

"You know if there is a role in national politics it won't be so much partisan," Palin said. "My efforts have always been here in the state of Alaska to get everybody to unite and work together to progress this state."

"It certainly would be a uniter type of role," Palin said.

"I think if she can get back to her real self, trusting her instincts, being the outsider, being willing to take on the big dogs, I think she'll do just fine and I think she'll be a player," said ABC News political consultant Torie Clarke.

But as her staffers watched the dismal returns Tuesday night and came to terms with the loss, several said they were worried she would be the scapegoat for the GOP's loss.

"She needs to go away for a while," said one Palin aide. Once Palin spends some time back in Alaska, out of the national spotlight, this aide said, then she can re-emerge on the national scene.

As the Barack Obama victory party in Chicago's Grant Park grew noisier Tuesday night, the party at the bar at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix was getting rowdy too.

Into the wee hours, former Palin staffers expressed regret about how Palin's campaign had been handled.

"She was under-served," said one aide, who said Palin did not deserve to step onto a national stage with so little support and guidance.

This aide was particularly disturbed by the way Palin's media appearances were handled, saying that the build-up was so big that any mistake by Palin was doomed to be judged a failure.

Several aides also said Palin was done an enormous disservice by her own staff when someone authorized the purchase of $150,000 worth of clothing for the governor and her family.

"That wasn't her," one aide said.

The clothing, much of which was never worn, will now be donated to charity, the campaign has said.

While Palin staffers were disappointed, many were also relieved to have the race over. Some have vacations planned. Most will return to jobs they ditched about two months ago, when Palin was named to the ticket.

"I'm not doing anything until January," said one Palin aide.

Palin does not have that luxury. Her job awaits back in Juneau.

And she will soon have another duty. Palin will soon be a grandmother, with her daughter Bristol due to give birth in about six weeks, on Dec. 18, according to the baby's father.