Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said Thursday the Republican Governors Association is committed to returning to the bedrock values of the party after a battering in the Nov. 4 election left Republicans in a weakened state across the nation.
"Let us resolve not to become the negative party, too eager to find fault or unwilling to help in this time of crisis and war," she told the gathering Thursday. "Losing an election does not have to mean losing our way, and for governors, the way forward leads through our own state capitals in reforms we will carry on or begin anew."
Palin, whose vice presidential nomination led to her being cast as one of the GOP's rising stars, told reporters ahead of the group's plenary session that she's not thinking about her personal ambitions but putting the country back on the conservative track.
"As far as we're concerned, the past is the past, it's behind us," she said. "And I, like all of our governors, we're focused on the future. And the future for us is not that 2012 presidential race. It's next year, and our next budgets and the next reforms in our states, and it's 2010 when we'll have 36 governors' positions open across the U.S."
Nonetheless, Palin's role in the coming years helping other Republicans get elected could be the key factor in her ability to stake a claim to the presidential nomination in 2012. Palin is hoping to rise from the ashes of a failed John McCain presidential campaign that ended with her fending off claims she is countrified and bubble-headed.
"I can assure you, she's just getting started," said Texas Gov. Rick Perry, introducing her, and telling her to "knock 'em dead" at a press conference before the press conference.
As a history-making figurehead who has held court with foreign heads of state and still has the media clamoring for her time, Palin is poised to cement her role within the party. She told governors that America wants "to be able to trust the federal government again" and much of that will rely on the ability of governors to project authority on the state level and work across partisan lines.
"We are united and we understand what it's going to take to get this economy back on the right track, national security issues, immigration issues, education reform, health care reform, those issues that we deal with every day in our states," she said. "We want to reach out to the new administration and offer our assistance, our support, offer solutions and I think that we'll be sought by the new administration, by Congress, and we're here to help."
Meanwhile, Palin has signaled she might just heed the calls to reach for the mantle of the Republican Party -- and remain in the national spotlight. She said she was disappointed by the election results. "You run to win," she said, adding that her gender is an asset to the party's image.
"In America there will be no ceilings on achievement, glass or otherwise," she told the governors.
Palin has not been subtle about her aspirations toward higher office.
She told FOX News over the weekend that she'd be delighted to "serve in a greater capacity."
She said she'd "plow through that door" in 2012 if the opportunity presented itself.
As with Barack Obama after his Democratic keynote four years ago, Palin may recognize the need to strike while the iron's still hot.
"She is the future of the party. She can bring in those independents, those who have not historically voted Republican, like Ronald Reagan did," said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council.
It's unclear how exactly she'll stay visible and viable from a far-removed state that, as she reminded voters during her campaign, shares a maritime border with Russia.
"This is like going from first class to coach," Andrew Halcro, who ran as an independent against Palin for governor in 2006, said of her return to Alaska.
"The world stops for you [in a presidential race]. ... I think that's a little hard to take for politicians who have ambition, and I think she's going to try very hard to keep her name and face on the national stage," he told FOXNews.com.
One way to super-charge her presence on the national scene would be to join the U.S. Senate. And there's a window for Palin to take that route.
Sen. Ted Stevens, convicted of seven felony counts just before Election Day, is still in a close race for re-election against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. But although Stevens plans to appeal his federal corruption conviction, Senate leaders have said they will move to expel him if he is re-elected.
If Stevens is expelled, Palin could run for his seat in a special election, which by law would be held 60 to 90 days after his seat becomes vacant.
The Alaska governor has given mixed signals about the potential opening. Palin told NBC in an interview Tuesday that's not what she wants to do.
"I'm not planning on that," Palin said. "I'm not planning on it because I think the people of Alaska will best be served with me as their governor making sure that we are prudently spending the tax dollars."
But she told another cable news network Wednesday that, "if it were acknowledged up there that I could be put to better use for my state in the U.S. Senate, I would certainly consider that but that would take a special election and everything else."
Palin could also finish out her first term as Alaska's governor, and then run for Sen. Lisa Murkowski's seat in 2010. But there would be obvious downsides for Palin's unconventional image if she won a seat in the U.S. Senate.
McCain saw her as the ultimate outsider and maverick when he tapped her to be his running mate, and it was that standing that allowed Palin to play the scourge of the East Coast elite at the Republican National Convention in September.
Randy Ruedrich, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, said staying on as governor would allow Palin to retain her outsider status -- and build the kind of executive experience that presidential candidates often need. (Obama was an anomaly -- governors and vice presidents, not senators, usually win the White House.)
"She's going to be able to gain the most relevant experience in the near-term as governor," Ruedrich told FOXNews.com He said it's possible Palin would run for Stevens' seat, "but that puts you in the position of not gaining executive experience, and that's a mixed bag for her."
He said that "being one in 100 as opposed to being governor is a negative" in terms of building her resume for a presidential run.
Geraldine Ferraro, who became the first female vice presidential candidate on a major ticket with Walter Mondale in 1984, said Palin's doing the right thing by going on offense in response to the post-election Palin-bashing.
"I don't think she's done," Ferraro told FOX News.
Still, Palin, who drew criticism from conservatives for her shaky interview performances in the presidential campaign, is far from a shoo-in for her party's nomination in 2012.
The Republican Party sustained a stinging electoral rebuke on Election Day, losing seats in the House and Senate, as well as the presidency. The door is open for rising stars to rebuild the party and re-establish its appeal among voters.
Members of the Republican Governors Association like Florida's Charlie Crist, Louisiana's Bobby Jindal and Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty -- all at one point mentioned as possible McCain running mates -- are considered likely contenders to carry the mantle of the party in the years ahead.
"This is a competitive sport," Halcro said. "All those other GOP wanna-be's are not going to sit [still] and let her suck up all the spotlight."
FOX News' Judson Berger and Phil Keating and The Associated Press contributed to this report.