Palin Returns To Alaska Politics, But What's Ahead?

Republican Sarah Palin has gone back to her day job as governor of Alaska. Her two months as John McCain's running mate made her a household name in the "Lower 48" — something Alaskans are still getting used to.

With her newfound national prominence, Palin will have to figure out how she fits in back in the intimate little world of Alaska politics.

On Wednesday night, the McCain-Palin campaign jet made one final landing in Anchorage, and as the governor's family emerged onto the freezing tarmac, supporters greeted them with a new cheer: "2012!"

The year is one some Republicans are associating with Palin's name, but she's not tipping her hand yet.

"Plans for 2012 are to enroll Trig in kindergarten and, you know, see where the kids are at that time in their life. They're going to come first, and we'll see what happens then," she said.

Palin says she's "just concentrating on getting back to the Anchorage governor's office and then the Juneau governor's office and [getting] to work on all the priorities that we have for this great state."

A Changed Politician?

Palin could expect a warm welcome home, especially from people like Gail Anne Swanson. In a Wasilla coffee shop on Election Day, Swanson was already contemplating the possibility that American voters would be sending Palin back to Alaska.

"You know, she still has us," Swanson said. "She'll come home and be our governor again. And we love her."

Alaskans like Swanson say Palin's vice presidential candidacy has made them feel more connected to the national scene, and they hope Alaska has gained a little more respect.

"We're so proud, I'm so proud," she said. "It makes me want to cry, just seeing her. I just ... I am in awe of the fact, because she is so much just one of us."

But are Alaskans getting the same Palin back? As he watched the returns coming in on Tuesday night, Democrat Eric Croft said no. He thinks she will now be a very different politician.

"She's matured a lot; she's seen a lot of different things. She's also had to carry a more partisan banner than we're used to her having up here," he said, "and that'll have some repercussions."

Croft is talking about the fact that as governor, Palin often depended on a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans. So it came as a shock to some of them to see her at the Republican convention, attacking Barack Obama with a contemptuous tone they had never heard from her before.

"I think she had to play that role, and she played it well. But, no, I don't know that that's the natural her," Croft said.

'Points Of Contact'

The Republican pit bull may not be the natural Palin, but it's a performance that has state Democrats wondering whether they're still allied with her on crucial state issues, such as building a new gas pipeline and squeezing more taxes out of oil companies.

State Sen. Hollis French, a Democrat who got roughed up by McCain campaign attacks during the whole "Troopergate" affair, now says it's time for reconciliation.

"You know, I think the ball's sort of in the governor's court," French said. "We're going to be here, you know, and we'll find, I imagine, points of contact. ... Obviously, there's going to be some tender feelings after any election, but those go away."

Standing on the tarmac Wednesday night, Palin didn't seem to think there would be a problem.

"Nobody should have hurt feelings! My goodness, this is politics! Politics is rough and tumble, and people need to get thick skin, just like I've got," she said.

That's two months in the trenches with McCain talking. Now, the question is: What will she do with her newly acquired national political experience?

Palin might consider the Senate. It is still too close to say whether Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who was recently found guilty of corruption charges, won re-election Tuesday. If he did win but later leaves office, the state will hold a special election to fill his seat. The Senate could be Palin's logical next step — if she decides she's done with small-state politics.

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