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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.”

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Senator Barack Obama, greeting President Bush at the White House in February 2005.

Senator Barack Obama, greeting President Bush at the White House in February 2005.

WASHINGTON — For nearly two years on the campaign trail, Senator Barack Obama rarely missed a chance to take a swipe at President Bush. The name George W. Bush invariably followed the phrase “failed policies” in Mr. Obama’s speeches. “When George Bush steps down,” Mr. Obama once declared, “the world is going to breathe a sigh of relief.”

Ronald and Nancy Reagan, right, and President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in 1980.
On Monday, Mr. Obama, Democrat of Illinois, may find himself conveniently forgetting those words — or at least delicately stepping around the fact that he had said them. As the president-elect, he will be welcomed at the White House as an honored guest of its current occupant, Mr. Bush, for a meeting that could be as awkward as it is historic.

In a time-honored tradition of American democracy, Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, will receive a tour of their new home from Mr. Bush and the first lady, Laura Bush. Then the men will split off to begin the formal transfer of power, all the more urgent this year because of the financial crisis. Mr. Obama has said he expects a “substantive conversation between myself and the president.”

But there will also be a subtext to the session: the personal chemistry between two leaders whose worldviews are miles apart. The ritual visit is occurring uncommonly early this year, less than a week after Mr. Obama handily defeated Senator John McCain of Arizona, who was the Republican nominee and Mr. Bush’s preferred candidate. Emotions may still be raw.

“I’m not going to anticipate problems,” Mr. Obama said Friday at his first news conference as president-elect. “I’m going to go in there with a spirit of bipartisanship.”

Mr. Bush, the president-elect, visiting with President Bill Clinton at the White House in 2000.

Mr. Bush, the president-elect, visiting with President Bill Clinton at the White House in 2000.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama have had little chance to forge the kind of personal relationship that might prompt a smooth handoff. In his book, “The Audacity of Hope,” Mr. Obama wrote less than admiringly of his first face-to-face encounter with the president, at a White House breakfast for new senators after the 2004 election, where Mr. Bush outlined his second-term agenda.

“The president’s eyes became fixed; his voice took on the agitated, rapid tone of someone neither accustomed to nor welcoming interruption; his easy affability was replaced by an almost messianic certainty,” Mr. Obama wrote. “As I watched my mostly Republican Senate colleagues hang on his every word, I was reminded of the dangerous isolation that power can bring.”

Mr. Bush, meanwhile, was privately critical of Mr. Obama during the 2008 Democratic primary race, telling friends that he thought Mr. Obama’s chief rival for the party’s nomination, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, was “more experienced and more ready to be president,” said one friend of Mr. Bush’s who had such a conversation. But Mr. Obama ran a good campaign — Mr. Bush is someone who appreciates that — and the election last week might have eased his doubts.

“President Bush is a realist,” said this friend, who spoke anonymously to disclose his private conversation with the president. “He has a way of coming to grips with things and moving on. The people have spoken.”

For Mr. Bush, the meeting has a distinct upside: the chance to take the edge off his unpopularity. Democrats are already praising him as gracious for his post-election speech in the Rose Garden, where he said it would be a “stirring sight” to see the Obama family move into the White House. The meeting on Monday will give Mr. Bush an opportunity to produce lasting images of that graciousness.

“The important thing he gets out of it,” the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said, “is a public perception of him as somebody who is leaving in classy fashion, by opening his house and his information and his government. He wants to leave on a note that says he did everything possible to help this next president run the country.”

But such meetings can be fraught with political and personal danger. On Inauguration Day in 2001, President Bill Clinton invited Mr. Bush for coffee before the ceremony but kept his ever-punctual successor waiting for 10 minutes, recalled Mr. Bush’s first press secretary, Ari Fleischer. Even more uncomfortable was the presence of Vice President Al Gore, who lost the presidential election to Mr. Bush after a bitterly contested Florida recount.

Ronald and Nancy Reagan, right, and President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in 1980.

Ronald and Nancy Reagan, right, and President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in 1980.

“Clinton was his normal gregarious self, but Vice President Gore was not a happy camper,” Mr. Fleischer said. “I think it was a very sour moment for him, and you could kind of feel it in the room.”

In 1980, after President Jimmy Carter lost his re-election bid to Ronald Reagan, the two met at the White House. Mr. Carter came away feeling that Mr. Reagan had not been paying attention.

“President Carter was kind of taken aback by the meeting with Reagan,” said Jody Powell, Mr. Carter’s former press secretary. “There was a point where he sort of wandered off and asked questions that seemed to be only tangentially related to what they were talking about.”

And though the Carter White House had offered to share information about efforts to end the Iranian hostage crisis, Mr. Powell said, “My impression was that they wanted us to handle it without them being involved enough to have to take responsibility for whatever happened.”

So, too, may it be with Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama over the economy. Mr. Bush has invited world leaders to Washington on Friday and Saturday for an international conference on the economy. Mr. Obama and his team have declined to attend. Mr. Obama supports a new economic stimulus package; the Bush White House is cool to that idea.

The White House says Mr. Obama has been there seven times during Mr. Bush’s tenure, most recently in September for a much-publicized meeting on the $700 billion financial rescue package. That session blew up when House Republicans, backed by Mr. McCain, balked at the plan. Curiously enough, Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush were on the same side.

Perhaps Mr. Obama will remind Mr. Bush of that when he sees him on Monday. Or perhaps he will remind Mr. Bush of another encounter, at a White House reception in January 2005 when, according to Mr. Obama’s book, the affable president offered a dollop of hand sanitizer — “Not wanting to seem unhygienic,” Mr. Obama wrote, “I took a squirt” — and then pulled him aside for some unsolicited political advice.

“You’ve got a bright future, very bright,” Mr. Bush began, by Mr. Obama’s account. The president went on to warn the new senator that his celebrity status could hurt him: “Everybody’ll be waiting for you to slip, know what I mean? So watch yourself.”

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11-8-2008-9-53-59-pm

That whole anti-American, friend-to-the-terrorists thing about President-elect Barack Obama? Never mind.

Just a few weeks ago, at the height of the campaign, Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota told Chris Matthews of MSNBC that, when it came to Mr. Obama, “I’m very concerned that he may have anti-American views.”

But there she was on Wednesday, after narrowly escaping defeat because of those comments, saying she was “extremely grateful that we have an African-American who has won this year.” Ms. Bachmann, a Republican, called Mr. Obama’s victory, which included her state, “a tremendous signal we sent.”

And it was not too long ago that Senator John McCain’s running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, accused Mr. Obama of “palling around with terrorists.”

But she took an entirely different tone on Thursday, when she chastised reporters for asking her questions about her war with some staff members in the McCain campaign at such a heady time. “Barack Obama has been elected president,” Ms. Palin said. “Let us, let us — let him — be able to kind of savor this moment, one, and not let the pettiness of maybe internal workings of the campaign erode any of the recognition of this historic moment that we’re in. And God bless Barack Obama and his beautiful family.”

There is a great tradition of paint-peeling political hyperbole during presidential campaign years. And there is an equally great tradition of backing off from it all afterward, though with varying degrees of deftness.

But given the intensity of some of the charges that have been made in the past few months, and the historic nature of Mr. Obama’s election, the exercise this year has been particularly whiplash-inducing, with its extreme before-and-after contrasts.

sarah-palins-momentum-seems-to-be-diminishing

The shift in tone follows the magnanimous concession speech from Mr. McCain, of Arizona, who referred to Mr. Obama’s victory Tuesday night as “a historic election” and hailed the “special pride” it held for African-Americans. That led the vice president-elect, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., to get into the act. During the campaign, Mr. Biden said he no longer recognized Mr. McCain, an old friend. Now, he says, “We’re still friends.” President Bush, in turn, also hailed Mr. Obama’s victory, saying his arrival at the White House would be “a stirring sight.”

Whether it all heralds a new era of cooperation in Washington remains to be seen, and it may be downright doubtful. But for now, at least, it would seem to be part of an apparent rush to join what has emerged as a real moment in American history.

The presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said she was hard-pressed to find a similar moment when the tone had changed so drastically, and so quickly, among so many people of such prominence.

“I don’t think that’s happened very often,” Ms. Goodwin said. “The best answer I can give you is they don’t want to be on the wrong side of history, and they recognize how the country saw this election, and how people feel that they’re living in a time of great historic moment.”

Others in the professional political class were not so sure. Some wondered whether simple pragmatism was the explanation.

“My experience is, it’s less an epiphany and more a political reality,” said Chris Lehane, a former Democratic strategist who worked on the presidential campaign of Al Gore. “I’m thinking they will continue in this direction so long as the polls indicate it’s a smart place to be.”

There are notable exceptions: Rush Limbaugh has given no quarter. And while his fellow conservative radio hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham have noted the significance of his victory — on Wednesday, Ms. Ingraham said “Obama did make history” and “It’s not the time to vilify him” — they seem to be in line with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News. Relishing his new role in the opposition camp, Mr. O’Reilly said, “The guy is still a mystery, so our oversight will be intense.”

Some lawmakers also do not appear inclined to give up the fight. Representative John A. Boehner, the House minority leader, has already criticized Mr. Obama’s choice of Representative Rahm Emanuel, Democrat of Illinois, as his chief of staff.

But other people who opposed Mr. Obama, like Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, have good reason to try to make up with the winning ticket. As an ardent backer of Mr. McCain, Mr. Lieberman angered the Democrats, who in 2000 nominated him as their vice-presidential candidate. After losing a Democratic primary challenge in 2006 and then winning as an independent, he still continued to caucus with the Democrats.

Attending an event with Mr. McCain in York, Pa., in August, Mr. Lieberman said the race was “between one candidate, John McCain, who has always put the country first, worked across party lines to get things done, and one candidate who has not.”

As a speaker at the Republican National Convention, Mr. Lieberman went further than Democrats expected by criticizing Mr. Obama for “voting to cut off funding for our troops on the ground.” (Mr. Obama voted for bills that included plans for withdrawal from Iraq and against others that did not.)

This week Mr. Lieberman, who has been asked by the Democratic Senate leadership to consider giving up his position as the chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, released a statement congratulating Mr. Obama for “his historic and impressive victory.” It continued, “The American people are a people of extraordinary fairness.”

Marshall Wittmann, a spokesman for Mr. Lieberman, said that as far as the senator was concerned, “It’s over, and it’s genuinely time to find unity and move forward behind the new president.”

And what about that whole bit about Mr. Obama not always putting his country first? “He believes that President-elect Obama — and, then, Senator Obama — is a genuine patriot and loves his country,” Mr. Wittmann said. “The only point he was making in his campaign was about partisanship.”

Mr. Obama is apparently ready to bury the hatchet with his new fans. “President-elect Obama has made it clear that he wants to put partisanship behind and work together to solve the many challenges confronting the country,” said Stephanie Cutter, a spokeswoman for the Obama transition team. “We’re pleased that others do as well.”

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, who will help decide Mr. Lieberman’s committee assignment, sounded less ready to forgive, at least when it came Mr. Lieberman’s support for Mr. McCain. “Joe Lieberman has done something that I think was improper, wrong, and I’d like — if we weren’t on television, I’d use a stronger word of describing what he did,” he said on CNN Friday.

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