Palin: GOP governors 'focused on future'

Patricia MazzeiMiami Herald

MIAMI - Before a gaggle of television cameras and reporters this morning, Gov. Sarah Palin, the Alaska governor and former vice presidential nominee, said she didn't want to talk about her losing vice-presidential campaign but instead wanted focus on the future of the Republican Party.

"The past is the past. It's behind us," she said at a news conference at the Republican Governors Assocation meeting in Miami before her speech to the GOP group.

''The campaign is over,'' she said. "Suffice it to say I, like every other governor, understand it is very important that we're speaking to constituents. And you have to do it through the media so we're doing that today."

Her focus, Palin said, was to use her political celebrity to highlight the work of Republican governors.

"We're focused on the future and the future for us is not that 2012 presidential race," she said. "It's next year and our next budgets and the next reforms in our states."

In a speech before the governors, Palin took a cue from her appearance on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," saying not much had changed in the year since the last conference.

"I had a baby. I did some traveling," she said. "I very briefly expanded my wardrobe. I made some speeches, I met some VIPs, including those who really impact society, like Tina Fey."

Palin also thanked President Bush - "The greatest measure of a president is whether he protected and defended this great country. He succeeded in keeping America safe from another attack" -- and wished President-elect Barack Obama well.

"If he governs with the skill and the grace and greatness of which he is capable, we're going to be just fine," she said.

After the press conference, she joined a panel discussion on "Looking Toward the Future: The GOP in Transition" with a group that included Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

On this panel, Palin called on fellow Republican governors to keep the new president and his strengthened Democratic majority in check on issues from taxes to health care as she signaled she'll take a leadership role in a party searching for a new standard-bearer.

After losing the White House and several seats in the Senate and House, the party is engaging in some soul-searching about its direction.

"We are the minority party," Palin said. "Let us resolve not to be the negative party"

At her news conference, Palin, surrounded by a gaggle of reporters, answered questions in passing after taping a TV interview.

Also today, Gov. Charlie Crist will speak at a state dinner with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, among other events.

On Wednesday, governors said the Republican Party should position itself as a pragmatic problem-solver for working people.

Without unequivocally stating that the party should move to the ideological center to appeal to more moderate voters, leaders at the two-day meeting urged their colleagues to tackle education, energy and the environment to broaden the party's base.

Largely absent from their discussions: hot-button social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, which are seen by some party members as divisive.

Women, Hispanics and young voters flocked to Democrats on Election Day, and with a Democratic-controlled White House and Congress, it will fall on GOP state leaders to win those groups back, governors said.

"We need to reach out more as a party," said Crist, hosting the annual conference after Florida went blue in the presidential race and as the state faces a severe budget crunch.

Still, Crist promoted Florida as a ''model of success'' in dealing with taxes, environmental issues and a large, diverse electorate, even if the state went for Barack Obama.

Jim Greer, head of the state GOP, said he was proud that Florida Republicans maintained their significant majority in the state Legislature and had a net loss of only one congressional seat out of several competitive races.

"We won every Republican race except for the presidential race," Greer said. "Compared to what happened in other states, Florida did very well.

"In the presidential race, we were swimming up a stream that had a current that just overcame us."

While governors avoided placing blame on how the presidential race was lost, conservative analysts at the meeting pointed to a more technologically savvy Democratic campaign and to the Bush administration's unpopular handling of the war in Iraq, the economy and Hurricane Katrina.

"You cannot mess up that much and expect to get re-elected," said Byron York, who writes for the conservative National Review magazine.

York argued the party should not have nominated John McCain, who he said had "thumbed his nose" at some of the party's base. But on other panels Wednesday, some Republicans said the Arizona senator was the best person to take on Obama.

"He was the only Republican who could have come as close as he did," said Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay who worked on Mitt Romney's presidential bid before moving to the McCain camp.

And Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour warned governors to work in their states before thinking about running for higher office in four years.

"Anybody here tonight who's talking about the 2012 presidential election needs to get their eye on the ball," he said. "We don't need any talk of 2012."

He said afterward that he was not directing his comments at Palin but at the news media.

Looking to the future, Crist and other GOP stars like Pawlenty and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said Republicans should stick to their principles of smaller government and less spending, but also propose more pragmatic solutions to appeal to what Pawlenty called "Sam's Club voters."

"Our bumper-sticker message can't be, ‘Vote Republican because the other side is worse,' " Jindal said.

Added Pawlenty, once considered a possible McCain running mate: " ‘Drill, baby, drill,' by itself, is not an energy policy. We need that, but we need a lot more than that."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Video of Palin at the press conference:

Miami Herald