, SAN FRANCISCO, Jul 26 – With questions swirling about her next move, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin steps down Sunday after bursting into the US political spotlight last year as John McCain’s presidential running mate.
The Republican Party lightning rod has been touted as a potential adversary for President Barack Obama in 2012, but with continued ethics probes, outsized legal bills, and growing doubts about her ability to govern dogging her, it is unclear if her farewell is a precursor to a Washington career or a political finale.
Palin, 45, has been participating in an annual series of picnics in her hometown of Wasilla since Friday, when she told a crowd of more than 1,000 she was grateful for the backing she has received from Alaskans amid mounting pressure from critics after she abruptly announced her resignation on July 3.
"This is my last time to speak to the Valley community as your governor," said Palin, clad in jeans and a red football sweatshirt before serving hotdogs and signing autographs, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
"I appreciate the support you have shown me and my family. I love you, and God bless America."
Palin attended a picnic in Alaska’s largest city Anchorage on Saturday, before a final picnic in Fairbanks on Sunday when she hands over the reins of the state to Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell, the newspaper reported.
Palin left Friday’s event without talking to reporters, leaving unanswered the questions about her future.
But she told The Washington Post in a written statement she was not leaving because of any particular ethics complaint and was determined to fight government waste.
"I will take the battle nationally and I won’t shy away from challenging the powerful, the entrenched, the corrupt and anyone standing in the way of getting our country back on the right track," Palin wrote.
Some two dozen ethics complaints have been filed against Palin and while she has cast herself as an anti-corruption star she was found to have violated state ethics rules governing public officials.
Palin has said she owes more than half a million dollars in legal fees stemming from what she has described as the "political absurdity" of the ethics complaints.
Her supporters set up a fund to help defray her legal costs, but an independent investigator’s preliminary report found that Palin may have violated state ethics laws by allowing such a fund to assist her, according to Alaska news reports.
The governor’s resignation — a move she said was in the best interests of Alaska — with 18 months remaining in her first term has fueled speculation of a possible 2012 White House bid.
But new poll figures released in recent days show most Americans do not see her in a positive light and cast doubt on her governing skills.
Fifty-three percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Palin, with only 40 percent seeing her in positive terms — her lowest approval rating since McCain tapped her as his running mate, according to the Washington Post-ABC News poll released Friday.
Potentially troubling for Palin if she decides to run for national office, 57 percent of poll respondents said she does not understand complex issues, with 37 percent saying she does.
Fifty-four percent told the pollsters the outgoing Alaska governor was not a strong leader while only 40 percent said that she was.
"I don’t think that she is cut out to be on the national stage," Rick Buila, a finance worker from Sharonville, Ohio, who voted for the McCain-Palin ticket last November, told The Post.