Sarah Palin's Political Future

Win or lose, the Republican vice presidential contender has a future in the party.

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One of the biggest questions facing Republicans is what becomes of Sarah Palin after Election Day, and it's clear that she will have a prominent role in the party no matter what happens.

If the GOP ticket wins, she will of course serve as John McCain's vice president. And Republican strategists say McCain will give her some major assignments, especially as a prime advocate for more domestic energy development. This would make good use of her expertise as governor of Alaska, where she has been a strong supporter of reducing U.S. reliance on foreign oil.

McCain advisers also say she could play a big role in pushing for government reform, in advocating tax cuts and reduced government spending, and as an advocate for special-needs children. (She is the mother of an infant with Down Syndrome.)

And a Vice President Palin would automatically jump to the head of the line of future Republican presidential contenders.

If the ticket loses, Palin will remain one of the most popular leaders in the GOP and would be well positioned to compete for the party's presidential nomination in 2012. Grover Norquist, a prominent conservative activist, says Palin is likely to be one of several top candidates on a list that may include former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Her popularity among conservatives and her newfound fame virtually guarantee her a seat at the table of contenders.

But she will also have her share of problems. The most significant, GOP strategists say, is that Palin would be a target for other ambitious Republicans who don't want her to be their nominee and for Democrats who fear her potential. "Palin is a clear and present danger" to her opponents, says a GOP strategist who has advised past presidential candidates, so they will do what they can to diminish her standing.

If voters rebuff the McCain-Pain team on Tuesday, she will need to spend the next couple of years racking up more political accomplishments back home. "She needs to do something interesting in Alaska" to keep her momentum going, a senior Republican says. Likely possibilities include a continuing commitment to fight corruption and imposing more limits on government spending.