Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska spoke at The Republican Governors Association in Miami on Thursday
MIAMI — Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska did something here on Thursday that she did not do in her entire campaign as the Republican Party’s vice presidential nominee: she stood behind a lectern and held a news conference. She was asked what had changed.
“The campaign is over,” she said.
Granted, the question and answer session lasted only four minutes, and for only four questions. As she stood on a stage in a hotel overlooking Biscayne Bay, surrounded by 12 fellow governors, Ms. Palin was asked what message she hoped to get across.
“I’m trying to convey the message that Republican governors are a unique team,” said Ms. Palin, who said she was uninterested in discussing the campaign.
But Ms. Palin did allow herself a look back after the brief news conference ended, as she addressed a session of the Republican Governors Association and told them that she had managed to keep busy since their last conference.
“I had a baby, I did some traveling, I very briefly expanded my wardrobe, I made a few speeches, I met a few VIPS, including those who really impact society, like Tina Fey,” she said.
And yes, she spoke again of “Joe the Plumber,” the Ohio man who briefly dominated the McCain-Palin campaign and its talk about taxes.
Ms. Palin thanked the people who attended her rallies, including young women she hopes she has influenced.
“I am going to remember all the young girls who came up to me at rallies to see the first woman having the privilege of carrying our party’s VP nomination,” she said. “We’re going to work harder, we’re going to be stronger, we’re going to do better and one day, one of them will be the president.”
That raised again the question surrounding Ms. Palin since the election ended: will she run in 2012?
“The future is not that 2012 Presidential race, it’s next year and our next budgets,” she said. It is in 2010, she said, that “we’ll have 36 governors positions open.”
Ms. Palin tried to downplay her celebrity (even after a week in which she was featured in interviews on NBC, FOX News and CNN). In her speech, she tried to change the focus from herself to the work that Republican governors must now do, including developing energy resources to health care reform.
“I am not going to assume that the answer is for the federal government to just take it over and try to run America’s health care system,” Ms. Palin said. “Heaven forbid.”
She implored her fellow Republican governors to “show the federal government the way,” while also reforming their own party.
“We are the minority party. Let us resolve not to be the negative party,” Ms. Palin said. “Let us build our case with actions, not just with words.”
Her appearance was the highly anticipated moment of the conference, coming a day after other emerging governors spoke about the direction of the Republican Party. Entering the political wilderness after its losses this month, the group that many consider its future met to talk about what went wrong, and what to do next.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, who was very nearly Senator John McCain’s running mate this year, told the decidedly subdued, post-election conference Wednesday about a revelation he had recently while looking into the bathroom mirror at his home in Minnesota.
Mr. Pawlenty said that after wearily returning from the campaign trail, he looked at himself in the mirror and complained about what he saw to his wife, Mary. “I said, ‘Mary, look at me,’ “ he said. “ ‘I mean, my hairline’s receding, these crow’s feet and wrinkles are multiplying on my face by the day, I’ve been on the road eating junk food, I’m getting flabby, these love handles are flopping over the side of my belt.’
“I said, ‘Is there anything you can tell me that would give me some hope, some optimism, some encouragement?’ “ he said. “And she looked at me and she said, ‘Well, there’s nothing wrong with your eyesight.’ “
As his fellow governors laughed, he came to the moral of the story: “If we are going to successfully travel the road to improvement, as Republicans, we need to see clearly, and we need to speak to each other candidly about the state of our party.”
The long, sometimes painful post-mortem of the election — where Republicans were widely repudiated, losing the White House and more seats in Congress — began in earnest here among Republican governors, a group that has traditionally served as a wellspring of new ideas and talent for the party. It was, at times, a bit glum.
Frank Luntz, the communications strategist, gave the Republicans a slideshow describing how Republicans have just endured their worst back-to-back elections since 1930 and 1932. And Mr. Luntz said that the prospect of sharing his polling research with a group of Republicans gave him pause. “I understand how Dr. Kevorkian feels at an AARP convention,” he said.
Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, another rising star in the party who is considered potential presidential fodder, said that the party needed to recapture the high ground on the ethics and good government, and that it could draw lessons from the high-tech campaign that Barack Obama waged.
“We should learn from that,” Mr. Jindal said.
Mr. Pawlenty kicked off the conference with a somewhat gloomy appraisal of where things stand for the Republican Party.
“We cannot be a majority governing party when we essentially cannot compete in the Northeast, we are losing our ability to compete in Great Lakes States, we cannot compete on the West Coast, we are increasingly in danger of competing in the Mid-Atlantic States, and the Democrats are now winning some of the Western States,” he said. “That is not a formula for being a majority governing party in this nation.”
“And similarly we cannot compete, and prevail, as a majority governing party if we have a significant deficit, as we do, with women, where we have a large deficit with Hispanics, where we have a large deficit with African-American voters, where we have a large deficit with people of modest incomes and modest financial circumstances,” he said. “Those are not factors that make up a formula for success going forward.”
“There will be calls, and voices across the country for Republicans to return to traditional conservative approaches in almost all respects,” he said, adding that there would also be calls to modernize the party.
“The good news is both are true, and both can be harmonized in my view,” Mr. Pawlenty said. “We can be both conservative and we can be modern at the same time.”