MIAMI Failed vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin urged fellow Republican governors on Thursday to set an example of optimism and fiscal competence to rebuild the party after last week's election drubbing.
"We are now the minority party but let us resolve not to become the negative party," the Alaska governor told colleagues and party donors at the Republican Governors Association meeting in Miami.
Palin, who was little known outside Alaska until Republican presidential nominee John McCain chose her as his running mate, was clearly the star of the show. She won two standing ovations from her audience and spoke at a brief news conference flanked by several fellow governors who are also considered rising stars.
"I can assure you she's just getting started," Texas Gov. Rick Perry said as he introduced Palin.
Republicans lost the presidency in last week's election to Democrat Barack Obama and saw their numbers shrink in both houses of Congress. That leaves the governors who will preside in 21 states as of January to lead the party out of the political wilderness, the governors said.
Palin was credited with energizing McCain's campaign after she came out swinging against Democratic rivals at the party's convention in September. She drew a strong following among the conservatives, but critics later said her lack of experience made her a drag on the ticket. McCain has denied that she hurt his campaign.
The governors tried to divorce themselves from Republican leaders in Washington while strategizing how they might rebuild their party and send more Republicans to Washington.
Without naming names, they said party leaders had betrayed their values by expanding government, running up massive debts and bailing out companies whose own self-dealing brought on the nation's financial mess.
Unlike Congress, the U.S. states are required to balance their budgets and that usually forces governors to work out compromises with legislators from both parties.
"We don't let extreme partisanship get in the way of doing what's right for our states," said Palin.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who was among the Republican contenders to be McCain's running mate, agreed that optimism and competence were needed. He cited President Ronald Reagan as an example of a leader who demonstrated ability as governor of California while never uttering an angry or disparaging word.
"People mostly want to follow positive leaders. They don't want to follow cranks," Pawlenty said.
But he said the nation had changed demographically and culturally since Reagan was president, and Republicans had failed to draw enough women, Hispanics, African Americans and modest-income voters.
"We're going to need more than just a political comb-over," Pawlenty said.
(Editing by Jackie Frank)