(For factbox on Republicans seen as potential candidates for
their party's nomination in 2012, click on [ID:nN03184162]
* Political world stunned by Palin resignation
* Palin had been subjected to widespread ridicule
* Alaska Republican senator says Palin "abandoned" state
(Adds Murkowski statement, paragraphs 5-6)
By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON, July 4 Republican Senator John
McCain expressed support for his former presidential running
mate, Sarah Palin, on Saturday as Washington speculated about
why the Alaska governor abruptly announced her resignation.
McCain made the comment a day after Palin stunned the
political world by announcing she is stepping down with 18
months left in her term.
McCain had plucked Palin from obscurity to make her his
vice presidential running mate in last year's presidential
campaign won by Democrat Barack Obama.
"I have the greatest respect and affection for Sarah, Todd,
and their family. I was deeply honored to have her as my
running mate and believe she will continue to play an important
leadership role in the Republican Party and our nation," McCain
said in a statement e-mailed to Reuters.
But Alaska's Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski issued a
statement saying, "I am deeply disappointed that the Governor
has decided to abandon the State and her constituents before
her term has concluded."
Palin defeated Murkowski's father, then-Governor Frank
Murkowski, in the 2006 Republican primary for governor.
A polarizing figure who is mainly popular among
conservatives, Palin has often been considered a possible
contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.
Her decision, announced in a rambling, disjointed statement
in her home town of Wasilla, Alaska, fueled speculation that
she might be seeking to position herself for a run.
But some commentators said it was a strange move for one
with presidential ambitions, opening her to potential criticism
that she quit her post to pursue a personal agenda.
In her statement, Palin referred to a series of ethics
probes into her conduct as governor and previously as mayor of
Wasilla, all of which she said lacked merit.
"My staff and I spend most of our day dealing with this
instead of progressing our state now," Palin said. "This isn't
what anyone had in mind for Alaska."
McCain's statement of support came after some of his
political aides from last year's campaign outlined their
grievances with her in an article in the current issue of
Vanity Fair magazine.
Palin, 45, initially boosted the McCain ticket, especially
after delivering a masterly speech at the Republican National
Convention introducing herself as a "hockey mom."
But her approval ratings plummeted following a disastrous
series of TV interviews and many voters wound up concluding she
lacked the qualifications to be vice president.
Public ridicule continued in the eight months since the
election. She recently engaged in an angry public dispute with
comedian David Letterman over jokes Letterman made about her
and Palin's daughter, Bristol, on his CBS show, "The Late Show
with David Letterman."
Some prominent Republicans do not blame her for deciding to
"I'm sure she felt that the only way to end the ridicule
that was attempting to tear her family apart was for her to get
off the stage for now," said Dana Perino, who was press
secretary for President George W. Bush.
Palin is said to have a book in the works. In addition,
Nick Ayers, executive director of the Republican Governors
Association, told Fox News on Friday that Plain wants to expand
her role in the national party.
"Part of her decision is she wants to spend more time
campaigning for candidates," he said.
That could be a welcome role for her in some parts of the
Republican Party, which has suffered devastating losses in
elections in 2006 and 2008 and is seeking ways -- and new
leaders -- to help it rebuild.
Perino said that while the "2008 election and the aftermath
of it would be something very hard to overcome politically" for
Palin, she could be a powerful symbol for the party as it tries
to encourage more women to run for office. [ID:nN03181731]
(Editing by Alan Elsner)