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Is Palin the Republican future?

By Jamie Coomarasamy
BBC News, Washington

Alaska Gov Sarah Palin returns to her office in Anchorage, Alaska, on Friday 7 November 2008
The self-styled 'pitbull with lipstick' is back in Alaska, but for how long?

Some defeated US presidential candidates prefer to hide from public view and lick their wounds - or, in Al Gore's case, to grow a beard.

But John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, has taken a different approach, and not simply because she does not have the facial hair option.

Ever since the 4 November presidential election, the vice-presidential candidate, who was accused of being media shy during the campaign, has become a non-stop interview machine.

From off-the-cuff comments, to long, sit-down conversations, to scenes from her family life, the Alaskan governor has become a ubiquitous presence on cable news channels.

'Diva'

Her main goal, clearly, is to set the record straight. Even before Barack Obama's victory was official, unflattering stories about Mrs Palin were emerging from anonymous sources within the McCain campaign.

Sarah Palin on her critics: 'Those guys are jerks'

She was branded a diva and criticised for allegedly spending over $150,000 (97,700) of Republican Party money on new clothes for herself and her family.

Worse came later, when it was claimed - anonymously, again - that she did not know that Africa was a continent, or which countries constitute North America.

So, liberated from the constraints of the campaign, she has been using her TV appearances to deny those accusations and to retouch her somewhat tarnished brand.

She has portrayed herself as an outsider who was stifled by the party machine.

It was the Republican National Committee, she told Fox News, that bought the new clothes, without her prior knowledge. She would have been perfectly happy wearing her own clothes.

And she has brushed off the allegations of ignorance - she simply mis-spoke when it came to Africa, she says.

Moose stew

And she has addressed other controversies, such as why she was not allowed to give her own speech on election night.

Sarah Palin and her family
Mrs Palin's family add to her homespun 'working mom' charm, say admirers

She told NBC that she did not know the answer to that question, but that she had simply been intending to "brag up" her running mate's story of courage.

In order to stress her own, down-to-earth, "working mom" persona, she invited cameras into her kitchen, where she answered questions while preparing such delicacies as moose stew and moose-dogs with cheese.

She has been saying it loud: She's Alaskan and proud.

But her ambitions clearly lie beyond that state's icy expanses.

While her interviews may, in part, be about addressing accusations made about her in the recent past, they have also been given with an eye to the future.

Awkward moments

Asked whether she might run for president in four years, this was Governor Palin's response to Fox News: "If there's an open door in 2012 or four years later, and if it's something that is going to be good for my family, my state, my nation and an opportunity for me, then I'll plough through that door."

Palin supporters in Ohio on 9 September 2008
The Alaska governor attracted adulation on the campaign trail

There have been a few potentially awkward moments, when she may have wondered whether she had given the cameras too much access.

At one point, NBC's Matt Lauer asked her seven-year-old daughter, Piper, whether it had been hard to be away from school for so long, while she was attending her mother's rallies.

Mrs Palin was quick to leap in with a defence of the presidential campaign's educational value.

Her daughter was certainly on message, though, when the conversation turned to a potential future run for the White House.

"Yeah," was Piper's unhesitating, one-word reply, when asked by her mother: "Would you do it again, sister?"

Undo the damage

So, will all of this - plus Mrs Palin's high-profile appearance later this week at the Republican Governors Association in Miami - be enough to undo the damage of recent weeks and, perhaps, to establish her as the natural heir to the party leadership?

Arkansas Gov Mike Huckabee
Social conservatives like Mike Huckabee could challenge Mrs Palin

Certainly, she enjoys huge support among large sections of the Republican base, which has not been swayed by the criticism made of the party's former vice-presidential nominee. Quite the opposite, in fact.

She has company, though.

This month, potential 2012 Republican candidates Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee will visit Iowa, the first state to cast its votes in the presidential primaries.

Together with Mrs Palin, they represent the more conservative wing of Republicanism.

At the moment, that wing seems likely to emerge from this post-defeat period of introspection, as the party's dominant philosophical force.

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