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Gov. Sarah Palin's last day; now what for GOP's North star? [Video]

July 26, 2009 |  1:24 am

Well, today's the last day in office -- partial day, actually -- for Alaska's Republican about-to-be-ex-governor, Sarah Palin.

On Friday we wrote right here about the string of summertime farewell picnics she launched (see video above). At a third picnic, that one in Fairbanks, she'll turn over the ceremonial gubernatorial BBQ apron this afternoon to Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, who's got the same initials but not the celebrityness as the outgoing guv.

So is today the practical end of the political career for Palin, who turned a Wasilla town council seat and a corruption expose of her own party into a surprise upset of the long-entrenched Republican establishment ruling the nation's largest state, and then defeated a better-known returning Democratic governor in the 2006 election finals?

Or is today merely the end of the beginning for the unconventional, grass-roots-talking hockey mom who has the one thing every politician covets and very few have -- star quality, that ability to force people to pay attention simply by their presence? (See video above.) Bill Clinton has it. So does Barack Obama. Like them or not, people turn and look when they're around.

By conventional political standards, Palin's caribou is cooked.

She's quitting a powerful elected position that only 50 Americans hold, a chief executive's office in . . .

. . . some state capital, a job that's produced four of the last six presidents. It's a prominent political pulpit, although the world rarely tunes in to Juneau.

A year ago only a few blogs (insert throat-clearing here) had mentioned her name as a possible VP running mate for aged Republican warhorse John McCain. It was a tumultuous few months for their unsuccessful GOP ticket and a tumultuous year for Palin, who announced her surprise resignation a few weeks ago, as reported that day here by The Ticket.

And analyzed later in a Ticket item here.

According to new poll numbers, Palin's approval rating has sunk, presumably abetted by her quitting 31 months into a 48-month term.To the extent those numbers involve job performance so far, they're probably irrelevant because that job's gone after lunch.

Sarah Palin's Signature

What she's got to do now without an elected position is live up to what her party's conservatives believe they see in her and live down the often self-inflicted soap-operay elements that many others see surrounding her life since McCain pulled her out of his pre-convention party hat in August.

Palin will have the freedom now to roam and pick and choose her topics/spots, hopefully with more staff savvy than she's shown this year. What will she do, besides make a fortune off her book due out next year? Do you think there'll be a publicity tour for that? Larry King? Sean Hannity? Greta? Oprah? Probably not CBS.

Will she use her steadily growing SarahPAC funds to travel the country speaking for causes and like-minded candidates, a la ex-Gov. Mitt Romney? (See photo collection below.)

Hey, she's trained for TV. Will she take a media job that delivers a handsome salary, a regular national podium and a faithful broadcast audience? That route hasn't seemed to do all that much for guitar-playing ex-Gov. Mike Huckabee. But he's taller and doesn't wear red heels. A combination of commentating and politicking?

Or how about signing on with a respected conservative foundation, try to build some credibility on a few issues for some image rehab while retaining a flexible schedule for travel, media, speaking and assaying of the political landscape leading up to 2012?

Or even 2016? Palin's only 45, after all. And Katie Couric will be reading in a retirement home by then.

Two things are certain about Palin's next career, however: It will be unconventional. And it won't be a picnic.

-- Andrew Malcolm

We'll be closely watching SP in the coming months, along with all the other characters in America's political dramas. Get Twitter alerts on each new item by registering here. Or follow us    @latimestot

Sarah Palin in Nevada
Sarah Palin talks to young girls about setting life goals
Sarah Palin sets out on a new career
Sarah Palin at South Carolina rally

Photos: Associated Press (Nevada fan seeks hat autograph); Associated Press (Palin talks to girls about setting life goals); Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty; Associated Press