When opportunity knocks, Gov. Sarah Palin plows through the door, she said this week. And right now the next door could lead into the U.S. Senate.
With the state counting ballots in the white-knuckle race between Republican Sen. Ted Stevens and Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat, Palin has not ruled out a potential run for Stevens' seat.
It depends on Alaska voters, Palin told CNN.
"If they call an audible on me, and if they say they want me in another position, I'm going to do it. ... My life is in God's hands. If he's got doors open for me, that I believe are in our state's best interest, the nation's best interest, I'm going to go through those doors."
Her position has evolved in the past week. Last Friday, Palin told the Daily News only that she was "not planning" on a Senate run.
The job would open up if Stevens wins re-election but is then expelled from the Senate for his conviction by a federal jury, or he resigns.
Then there's always Alaska's other Senate seat, held by fellow Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, which is up for grabs in 2010.
But for Palin's new national fans, the big prize is the White House. Talking to reporters in a flurry of post-election interviews, she hasn't ruled out a run for president either.
As Larry Sabato, director the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, put it: "You don't run for vice president to be vice president."
Experts disagreed Thursday on whether the governor's mansion or a Senate seat would be a better resume-builder for the potential presidential candidate.
Now that Palin's hit the national stage, she doesn't necessarily have anything to gain politically by remaining governor, said political science professor Frank Gilliam, dean of the UCLA School of Public Affairs.
"If she could serve in the Senate and have a productive career, it certainly I think helps her answer some of the questions that were raised by her vice presidential candidacy around competence and accomplishments," he said.
As Sen. John McCain's running mate, Palin took a beating for what foes and even some Republicans saw as a clear lack of policy knowledge.
There's no need for Palin to jump to the Senate to build her foreign policy chops, Sabato said. She could stoke national interest in her candidacy with media interviews and trips outside Alaska while still remaining governor, he said
"There probably isn't a head of state who won't meet with her."
Being governor's a good job, said Sabato, who has interviewed more than 300 current and former heads of state -- including those who also served in the Senate.
Governors get to be the boss. There's less talking and more doing.
"The last job in the world they want is the U.S. Senate," he said.
Palin was in Miami this week for a Republican Governors Association meeting, where she said she and the rest of the governors were thinking about their next budgets -- not the 2012 presidential race.
She talked like a party leader.
"We are the minority party, but let us resolve not to become the negative party," Palin said Thursday at a session on the future of the GOP. "Losing an election doesn't have to mean losing our way."
In the interviews this week, Palin clearly left the possibility wide open for a run at higher office.
"If there is an open door in '12 or four years later, and if it is something that's going to be good for my family, for my state, for my nation, an opportunity for me, then I'll plow through that door," Palin told Fox News, when asked about 2012.
As for the Senate, Stevens trails Begich with about 800 votes. The counting resumes today.
If Stevens wins, he'll face potential expulsion from his Senate peers.
That won't happen until Stevens, who says he's innocent and is fighting the verdict, has had a chance to appeal, predicted Jerry McBeath, a political science professor for the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
The process could take more than a year, he said.
The rules of succession were changed twice in 2004 -- once by the Legislature and once by voters. Both called for a special election to fill any Senate vacancy, though they disagreed on whether the governor can appoint a temporary fill-in.
The changes came after Gov. Frank Murkowski appointed his daughter to replace him in the Senate.
That appointment, with a series of other politically tone-deaf moves by Murkowski, cracked open the door for Palin's lopsided victory in the 2006 Republican primary for governor.
On election night, KTUU asked Sen. Lisa Murkowski about rumors the governor might run for her seat in 2010, Palin's other route to the Senate, instead of running for re-election.
Murkowski said she had no idea what the governor planned to do next.
"It's quite possible she doesn't know at this point," Murkowski said.
Reporter Erika Bolstad contributed to this story. Find Kyle Hopkins' political blog online at adn.com/alaskapolitics.
PALIN: Watch a recent interview at her home, submit photos and tell us if you think she would make a good senator.