WASHINGTON - Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has put the "brutal" 2008 campaign behind her and has the next presidential race in her sights, with a flurry of national television interviews and a high-profile appearance at the Republican Governors Association meeting this week.
Palin's stepping-out has been a marked departure for a vice presidential candidate who was held to tightly controlled appearances for much of the fall campaign. She's indirectly but unmistakably put her name in play as a potential presidential candidate, saying she'll "plow through that door" if it's God's will and conditions are right.
While Republican presidential nominee John McCain has kept a low profile since last Tuesday's election, Palin has spoken forcefully to deny any responsibility for her ticket's loss. She has blamed the policies of President Bush, the handicap of representing the incumbent party and the nation's financial crisis for the GOP defeat.
"I think the economic collapse had a heckuva lot more to do with the campaign's collapse than me personally," the governor said in an interview broadcast Tuesday on NBC's "Today" show.
Palin said she resents rumors she said were spread about her and her family during the race. "I did not know that it would be as brutal a ride as it turned out to be," she said.
Her comments seemed aimed as much at the McCain operatives who have reportedly said she was ill-prepared on foreign policy and other issues as well as those who were astonished by her expensive campaign wardrobe.
Palin said she neither wanted nor asked for the $150,000-plus wardrobe the Republican Party bankrolled, and has been trying to put to rest the flap over the fancy clothing.
"I did not order up these clothes," she told NBC. "The New York stylists who were already there and already orchestrating what the wardrobe should look like. Just like they have people to figure out what the staging and the lighting and everything else, the wardrobe, I guess, was a part of that."
Palin was relatively unknown outside Alaska before McCain picked her to be his running mate in late August. She energized crowds on the campaign trail, particularly conservative voters, but drew criticism from some in the party for lacking the experience needed for the Oval Office.
Palin's role at the Republican Governors Association conference highlights her newfound popularity.
She is scheduled to speak about the GOP's future at Thursday's meeting in Miami, but starts her day with an informal news conference with reporters. She'll take questions for about 20 minutes before discussing the transition of the party with other leaders, organizers said.
Introducing her will be the chairman of the association, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
She also has two separate interviews airing on CNN on Wednesday - one with late-night host Larry King.
Palin has been fielding questions about her political future since the campaign ended, most recently in an interview with Fox News on Monday.
"I'm like, OK, God, if there is an open door for me somewhere, this is what I always pray, I'm like, don't let me miss the open door," she said. "And if there is an open door in '12 or four years later, and if it is something that is 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 likely will have competition from other GOP governors and former governors for a 2012 White House bid. Among the potential candidates are former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who failed in his candidacy this year; Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.
If 2012 isn't the answer for Palin, the governor has several other options.
She could seek a second term as governor or challenge Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski for a Senate seat in 2010. Still uncertain is the fate of Sen. Ted Stevens, who is leading in the continuing count from the election but could be ousted by the Senate for his conviction on seven felony counts of failing to report more than $250,000 in gifts, mostly renovations on his home. If Stevens is removed from his seat by the Senate, Palin could run for it in a special election.