(For factbox on Republicans seen as potential candidates for their party’s nomination in 2012, click on [ID:nN03184162]
* Palin says to work ‘outside government’ for change
* Gives no indication of future plans
* Analysts speculate on possible bid for presidency
* Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell takes over July 26 (Recasts with background, detail throughout)
By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, July 3 (Reuters) - Sarah Palin, the brash, deeply conservative governor of Alaska who crashed onto the U.S. national political scene last year as the Republican candidate for U.S. vice president, announced abruptly on Friday she was resigning as governor.
In a rambling statement to the media, in which she took no questions, Palin, 45, indicated she wanted to extend her influence in U.S. politics and some analysts said she appeared to be laying the ground for a run at the presidency in 2012.
“We are not retreating, we are advancing in a different direction,” Palin said, employing the imprecise circumlocutions that characterize her public pronouncements. “We know we can effect positive change outside government at this moment in time.”
Palin, speaking in her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, with Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell and much of her state cabinet at her side, said her decision came after much “prayer and consideration.” She said she would transfer authority to Parnell on July 26.
Palin had been supposed to stay on as governor until the end of 2010.
She said she did not want to waste time on “political blood sport” and cited public criticism of her actions and her family since the 2008 campaign. “You are naive if you don’t see a full-court press right now on the national level picking apart a good point guard,” she said, using a basketball analogy.
Palin was the surprise choice of Republican Senator John McCain as his running mate in the 2008 presidential race.
She helped rally the party’s conservative base but alienated others who felt she did not have the experience or knowledge for national office. The Republicans lost heavily to Democrat Barack Obama in the November election.
With her party in disarray, she has been mentioned as a potential candidate for the party’s nomination in 2012, along with others including Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
WHAT LIES AHEAD
The announcement at the beginning of a three-day holiday weekend, with little Washington news expected, gave her wide access to the airwaves and could make for a strong start at regaining public attention.
Sophia Nelson, a Republican strategist, said Palin’s statement that she planned to work toward “positive change from outside government” was “code for ‘I’m running for president.’” [ID:nN03181731]
“I plan on talking to Governor Palin very soon. She is an important and galvanizing voice in the Republican Party. I believe she will be very helpful to the party this year as we wage critical campaigns in Virginia and New Jersey,” said Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Others wondered if it was a smart political move.
Andrew Halcro, a Republican who ran against Palin in 2006, said he did not think the sudden move would help her chances at higher office.
“If she was trying to transition to the national stage, there was a much better way to do it,” he said.
Princeton University professor Julian Zelizer said Palin’s future in public life depends on the reason she resigned.
“If there is any evidence that the decision was a result of political problems or looming scandals, she is done,” he said.
“The Republican Party already feels to be in a moment of crisis,” after losing the presidency and control of both chambers of Congress to the Democrats. He noted that in 2008 “she revealed many weaknesses ... limited policy knowledge, association with fringe groups, weak performances on television and more.”
She was cleared in November of wrongdoing in an abuse-of-power investigation into the firing of Alaska’s public safety commissioner.
In May, Palin signed a book deal to tell her own story, for an undisclosed sum, with News Corp’s HarperCollins.
“I look forward to helping others -- to fight for our state and our country, and campaign for those who believe in smaller government, free enterprise, strong national security, support for our troops, and energy independence,” she said.
Palin established herself as a party outsider by promoting a natural gas pipeline project opposed by Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski. She ran against the governor in 2006, defeated him in the primary and then won the general election.
The project to ship abundant North Slope gas reserves to U.S. markets has been stalled by the current recession and a recent sharp dip in natural gas prices. (Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols, Andrea Shalal-Esa, Chris Wilson, Jeff Mason, and Robert Campbell in Mexico City, Writing by Doina Chiacu: Writing by David Storey; Editing by Chris Wilson)