Palin says Republican Party must return to its core values

MIAMI -- Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin asserted Thursday that the nation's Republican governors are well-positioned to confront President-elect Barack Obama and the increasingly powerful Democratic Congress.

Speaking to the annual meeting of the Republican Governors Association, the former vice presidential nominee said her defeated party must return to core GOP values, such as limited government and personal freedom.

"Losing an election does not have to mean losing our way," said Palin, whose presence drew added attention to the three-day meeting. "And for governors, the way forward leads through our own state capitals in reforms that we will carry on or begin anew."

Palin praised her former running mate, Sen. John McCain, and wished Obama well in her first speech since losing the election.

"If he governs with the skill and the grace and the greatness of which he is capable, we're going to be just fine," Palin said. "And as he prepares to fill the office of Washington and Lincoln, know that this is a shining moment in American history."

With her trademark shout out — this time to a person with Down syndrome she met on the campaign trail — and references to "Joe the Plumber," the speech carried the same folksy tone Palin brought to the campaign.

Palin is one of 17 governors who attended the meeting, which has become a soul-searching exercise for the Republican Party. In addition to losing the White House, the GOP lost 20 House seats and six Senate seats.

At times, Republican officials seemed to be at war with themselves. Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the public had lost confidence in national Republican leaders because of pork-barrel spending and the recent taxpayer-funded economic bailout legislation.

"The Washington values displayed by our national leaders simply don't reflect the values of the Republican Party," Perry said. "Conservative values still matter to the American people."

The governors spent much of the conference discussing whether the party must veer to the right to energize its base, or seek middle ground to capture young people and minorities.

As party leaders wrestled with those issues, Palin loomed over the conference by appearing on Fox, CNN and NBC to defend herself against reports that she clashed with McCain over the direction of the campaign. In those interviews, she did not rule out a run for president or Senate.

Reporters swarmed around her as she moved throughout the conference. Her name frequently came up at planning sessions even when she was not present.

Frank Luntz, a pollster who has worked with Republicans, said Palin has made smart moves at the conference and in the days since the election by building up and responding to interest in her.

"She's a rock star," he said. "One of the things you learn about politics is that you strike when the iron is hot."

Despite her increased presence on television, Palin took only four questions at a news conference here and declined to discuss her political ambitions. Asked why she is suddenly talking to some television outlets after remaining sequestered from reporters, she replied: "The campaign is over."

Palin declined an interview request from USA TODAY.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty called Palin "a talented person who is going to be one of the voices that will help lead the party going forward." But, he said, "she won't be the only voice."