WASHINGTON Sarah Palin has left fellow Republicans guessing as to her true intentions after her shock decision to quit as governor of Alaska -- the latest episode in a summer of unwelcome surprises for the opposition party.
The unpredictable Palin has made clear she is thinking of a role for herself beyond that of a politician in distant Alaska but has avoided talking about a possible run for the Republican Party presidential nomination in 2012.
"I've never thought I needed a title before one's name to forge progress in America," Palin said in a July 4 holiday message to supporters that pushed her key themes of energy independence, stronger national security and fiscal restraint.
"I hope you will join me. Now is the time to rebuild and help our nation achieve progress," she said.
Many analysts, including some prominent Republicans, believe her decision to resign as governor have made it impossible for her to mount a realistic campaign in 2012.
But Republican elders say Palin could still be a powerful voice for rallying conservative voters by giving speeches or perhaps hosting a talk show on radio or cable television.
Rallying grassroots party activists was a role she played effectively last fall as the vice presidential running mate for Republican John McCain.
Speculation was rife in Republican circles that she might ultimately move out of Alaska to one of the Lower 48 U.S. states to make it easier to travel around the country.
"Palin will still be very influential in the nominating process for the next Republican," said Republican strategist Scott Reed. "But the idea of her being a candidate is a little far-fetched."
Karl Rove, the architect of President George W. Bush's two election victories, said: "Palin's resignation is risky if she wants to run for president but we'll see -- she does it her way."
Palin announced on Friday that she will step down as governor, about 18 months before her term ends.
She cited a fatigue with frequent attacks on her family and a series of ethics probes into her conduct as governor and previously as mayor of Wasilla, all of which she said lacked merit.
BACK TO BASICS
Her abrupt move was the latest convulsion in the Republican Party in recent weeks among leading Republicans who were believed to have presidential ambitions.
Nevada Senator John Ensign, seen by some as a potential 2012 presidential contender, admitted last month to having an extramarital affair and resigned from a senior party position.
Then South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, talked about by some as a possible presidential candidate, confessed to making a secret trip to see his mistress in Argentina after giving out a cover story that he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail.
Sanford later said he was caught up in a "tragic love story" with the Argentine woman and was attempting to fall in love again with his wife.
All this is happening as Republicans seek to regain their footing after electoral losses in 2006 and 2008 and try to make some inroads into Democratic majorities in the U.S. Congress in the 2010 mid-term elections.
The party's public approval rating in recent polls is hovering around an all-time low. According to Gallup polling, just 34 percent of Americans view the party favorably
To recover, Republican leaders say the party needs to get back to its basics of pushing for less government spending.
It is a position they are following on Capitol Hill in trying to raise doubts about the value of President Barack Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus plan, which so far has made no dent in the country's rising unemployment.
"We need, on an ideological level, to restore our credibility, particularly on the fiscal side," McCain said in a recent interview. "We let spending get out of control during the Bush administration. And it dispirited our base dramatically."
He also said Republicans need to understand that the demographics of America are changing with non-white minorities increasing in number, and that the party needs to give these increasingly influential voters some reasons to support Republicans.
"I'm not talking about pandering," he said. "I want to send a message to them that they're welcome in our party. If that's pandering then I plead guilty."
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, editing by Alan Elsner)