Sarah Palin arrived home in Alaska on Thursday as infighting intensified between Republicans who view her as the future of the party and others who blame her for John McCain’s defeat.
She was greeted at Anchorage airport by supporters urging her to run for the Republican presidential nomination in four years with chants of “2012! 2012!” Asked by reporters about her plans, she said: “We’ll see what happens then.”
But even as the Alaska governor tried to keep her options open, some allies of Mr McCain were busy trying to trash her reputation with a series of allegations about her conduct during the campaign.
Perhaps the most startling involved fresh claims about Ms Palin’s shaky grasp of geography, with unnamed McCain aides telling Fox News that during preparations for the vice-presidential debate, it emerged that she did not know Africa was a continent rather than a country.
A separate report in Newsweek magazine alleged that Ms Palin’s notorious shopping spree ahead of the Republican national convention was even more extensive than the $150,000 (€118,000, £95,000) previously reported.
One unnamed McCain aide reportedly described Ms Palin and her husband, Todd, as “Wasilla hillbillies” – referring to the small Alaskan city where she was mayor – who had travelled the country “looting” luxury fashion stores at the Republican party’s expense.
Spokespeople for Ms Palin and Mr McCain could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday. Given a chance to respond to the whispering campaign on Wednesday, Ms Palin declined. “I have absolutely no intention of engaging in any of the negativity because this has been all positive for me,” she told reporters.
It is hardly unprecedented for finger-pointing to break out within the losing presidential campaign, but the relationship between the McCain and Palin camps appears to have been unusually strained.
Mr McCain’s surprise choice of running mate initially looked a stroke of genius as the previously little-known 44-year-old electrified the Republican base with her conservative rhetoric and homespun style. But she failed to win over the independent voters and Hillary Clinton loyalists that Mr McCain hoped she would also woo.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in October showed she had become a bigger drag on the Republican ticket than President George W. Bush, as her bumbling performance in a high-profile television interview increased concern about her inexperience. Exit polls on Tuesday showed that 60 per cent of voters felt she was not qualified to be president.
A CNN poll out last week found that only four in 10 voters would consider voting for her if she ran for president in 2012, yet support for her is strongest among the Republican base that will choose the nominee.
Some analysts believe Ms Palin could seek a national platform by running for the Senate if Ted Stevens, the veteran Alaska senator, steps down. Mr Stevens had a narrow lead over his Democratic challenger as vote counting continued yesterday in spite of his conviction on corruption charges last week. He is expected to face intense pressure to resign if re-elected, potentially creating a vacancy for Ms Palin.
On Thursday she said she was focused on returning to her job as governor.