July 27, 2009 — -- Alaskans start the work week with a new governor, Sean Parnell, and an old puzzle: Why exactly did the old governor, Sarah Palin, step down, and what are her plans for the future?
So far, only a possible family vacation is on tap, her husband Todd Palin told ABC News.
"Maybe a little moose hunting, what do you think?" he said, adding that he was "very proud" of his wife.
Palin officially stepped down as Alaska's governor late Sunday, saying her reasons for doing so should "be obvious." But for those still in the dark, she repeated her belief that she thought she could more effectively serve the people of the state by leaving office.
She went out with a bang, delivering a fiery and candid 15-minute farewell speech to a crowd of supporters in Fairbanks, Alaska, in which she lambasted the media and touted Alaska's history of energy independence.
At times, it sounded as if the former vice presidential candidate was back on the campaign trail, stumping for fiscal conservatism, the development of natural energy resources and moral conservatism.
Yet she gave no hint as to her future in politics, saying only she stepped down in order to spare Alaskans "politics as usual" from her governorship turning into a "lame duck session," with a year-and-a-half to go.
When it was over, Palin was whisked into a car under heavy security, speaking briefly to ABC News with her baby Trigg in her arms.
"I feel great," she said. "It was a smooth transition of power as it should be, and a good advancement for the state."
Palin leaves office with a pile of cash in her political action committee -- more than a million dollars strong and growing rapidly since her decision to resign.
Following a farewellseries of picnics across the state over the weekend, Palin leaves behind legions of confused supporters.
"It breaks my heart because we voted for her, we believe in her," one supporter said. "She was honest, she was like a breath of fresh air."
Analysts say she is now in uncharted political territory.
"She runs second in most of the public polls for 2012, so she'll still very much be a factor as we go forward," said Republican analyst Frank Donatelli.
She is scheduled to appear at the Reagan Library for an event in August. But, what else? Will she seek higher office or cash in on speaking engagements and a TV deal?
If anyone truly knows, they're not saying -- including the so-called "first dude."
"It's been an awesome experience and she's very happy to serve the residents of Alaska and onto the next chapter of life," Todd Palin told ABC News. "I guess well just have to wait and see."
Not even her father, Chuck Heath, seemed to know to know her plans.
"I'm sure she has something else in mind," Heath said. "[But] I don't know. I spent two days with her over the Pale River, and she'd be a good poker player -- she didn't lead on to what she wants to do."
Sarah Palin's Farewell Weekend
Palin herself had little to say about her post-weekend plans.
"Come Monday, I'm going to be finding new avenues to keep working hard for Alaskans," she told ABC News.
Even as she served up hot dogs Saturday at an event in Anchorage in her last weekend as governor, a smiling Sarah Palin remained mum about what those "new avenues" might be -- unless you count her brief tweets on the social networking site Twitter.
Foreshadowing the freedom to speak her mind as a private citizen, she recently wrote, "ten days till less politically correct twitters fly from my fingertips."
She also wrote about listening to a country song called "Rollin," by the country duo Big & Rich, and quoted the lyrics, "ain't gonna shut my mouth -- I know there's got to be a few hundred million like me -- just trying to keep it free."
On Saturday evening, Palin tweeted again about what she'll be listening to in her camper: "RdTrip7 hrs wKid Rock/Martina McBride/Big&Rich/Grtchn Wilson/Billy Currngtn/Hank/Toby/VanP/Blk I P's/Greenwd/Straight/etc&USO artists=heaven"
Palin's "picnic tour" of Alaska kicked off Friday in her hometown of Wasilla, where the crowd was hopeful of greater things to come for their local Republican heroine.
"I think Sarah should be president," said town resident Becca Buyse. "I think she would do a much better job. She has the people's interest."
Larry J. Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said that success is in the cards for the soon-to-be former governor.
"What's she heading to is a lot of money and continuing fame," he said. "So she's not giving up anything, she's gaining a great deal."
Sarah Palin: Polls and Political Future
But an increasing number of people feel pessimistic about the self-proclaimed hockey mom: According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, 40 percent of Americans hold a favorable opinion of her overall, down from a high of 58 percent. Fifty-four percent don't see her as a strong leader and 57 percent don't think she understands complex issues.
Her numbers shot up among Republicans, however: 70 percent view her positively.
Some political strategists still see a future for Palin in politics, should she choose to pursue one.
"I always thought Sarah Palin had very strong candidate skills, and I think if she wants to run for office there are clearly Republicans out there that like what they hear. She'll certainly have a receptive audience if she runs for office," said Republican strategist Terry Nelson, who has advised President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain in the past.
Still, the current poll numbers are not insignificant, Sabato said.
"What's driving it is the resignation and all the controversy," he told ABC News. "Palin's become a grand soap opera that's playing out in places where a presidential candidate does not want to be."
Palin's bombshell July 3 announcement that she would quit as governor this Sunday, July 25, spurred speculation about a grassroots presidential run in 2012.
But some political analysts question whether leaving public office could possibly improve her future electoral fortunes.
"This is a major blow to any presidential aspiration she may have, whether she recognizes it or not, because it's deadly," Sabato said of Palin's surprise resignation. "Her Republican opponents -- and a Democrat, if she's a nominee -- can say she up and quit."
Nevertheless, supporters say Palin, who already has a lucrative book contract in hand, has plenty of options.
"Her future is whatever she wants it to be," Republican strategist Carl Forti told ABC News. "If that's TV entertainment or politics. But running for president takes more than charisma. It's a hard road she can't do alone. If she intends to run she needs to build a team and get better educated on the issues."
"She could be a commentator," Nelson said. "Other things I'll be looking for: What is the focus of her book? Does she get involved with some foundation? Does she try to do something that puts some thought leadership into some issues? Right now she's defined as a personality -- not a lot of people would ascribe issues to her other than personality."
Republican Still View Sarah Palin Favorably
Palin said she was resigning in part to save Alaskans the cost of her many legal battles over ethics complaints that have reportedly run up $500 million in legal fees, which spawned a legal aid fund that led to yet another ethics complaint.
In October, a legislative panel found said Palin had abused her powers as governor by trying to get her ex-brother-in-law fired from the state patrol.
Media reviews of the former governor have also been largely unfavorable. In one particularly devastating analysis, Vanity Fair's Todd Purdum declared Palin the "sexiest and riskiest brand in the Republican Party." The article went to call her 2008 vice presidential run "disastrous" and her family a "rogues gallery" that makes "Billy Carter, Donald Nixon, and Roger Clinton seem like avatars of circumspection."
Reviews like that could actually help, some Republicans say.
"Palin can use the bias against the media in the conservative community in her favor," the GOP's Forti said. "She can claim she gets a bad rap in the media and that echoes. It's been a long time since the Republicans have had a plain-talking charismatic candidate like Palin. It's very easy to see why people like her. Her obstacle now is to take that charisma and prove that a three-quarters-term governor from Alaska is qualified to be president of the United States."
By leaving office, Palin steps down from a position that could subject her to continued public pillorying by Democrats. Just today in The Washington Post, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and former presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., assail Palin's energy policies in an op-ed titled "What Palin Got Wrong About Energy Policy."
"Maybe she's just tired of all the drama and simply wants to stop the madness surrounding her," Republican operative Mark McKinnon, who coached Palin during the campaign, recently wrote in the blog The Daily Beast.
Amid all of the speculation and the negative turn in the public's perception of her, the real truth surrounding her final weekend as governor is that Palin herself is the only person who truly knows what's in store for her future.
"Maybe she wants to focus on her family. Maybe she may wants to make a lot of money giving speeches. Maybe she wants to host her own TV show. Maybe she wants to start a Barry Goldwater-like movement. And maybe she wants to run for President in 2012. Or, maybe she's got a boyfriend in Argentina," McKinnon quipped. "Only one thing is for sure when it comes to Palin: There is more to come. Probably much more."
On Sunday night, Palin tweeted, "Last state twitter. Thank you Alaska! I love you. God bless Alaska. God bless the U.S.A."
ABC's Devin Dwyer contributed to this report.