By Chris McGreal
Friday 3 July 2009 23.02 BST
Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate who electrified her party's campaign last year, has resigned as Alaska's governor in a dramatic decision that has fuelled speculation she is positioning herself to run for president.
But after an at times rambling speech in which she compared herself to battle wounded American soldiers in Kosovo and said only dead fish go with the flow, Palin's critics accused her of a "flaky" decision and walking away from her post.
Palin, who built strong support among conservative Republicans as John McCain's running mate last year, said she will step down in three weeks because she can contribute more away from politics.
"We know we can effect positive change outside government at this moment in time on another scale and actually make a difference for our priorities," she said.
But Palin also hinted at continuing political ambitions when she repeated a quote she attributed to general Douglas MacArthur: "We are not retreating, we are advancing in another direction."
For someone who is supposedly stepping back from politics, Palin's resignation speech was weighty with policy specifics which prompted speculation that she is positioning herself for a 2012 presidential bid or seeking another office which would move her from distant Alaska to the heart of Washington politics.
But the timing, coming during one of the biggest American holidays of the year, independence day, raised questions among some of Republicans who accused her of attempting to escape falling poll numbers in Alaska as a series of economic problems and ethics investigations take their toll.
A prominent Republican strategist, Ed Rollins, who directed Ronald Reagan's election campaign, said Palin had made a serious mistake.
"She was a shooting star who dimmed in recent months and now she's crashed," he said.
Another Republican strategist, Tony Blankley, disagreed and said Palin appeared to have made a smart move to position herself for a run for president.
"It looks like she's moving down a path toward it," he said. "It frees her up. The normal rules don't seem to apply to her. She's a fascinating character who seems to do things her own way."
Blankley said that it makes sense for Palin to resign as governor if she is seeking higher office.
"This is going to be a pretty tough time for incumbents the next couple of years in America with everything going to tell and this may be a pretty good time not to be in office," he said.
Blankley also said that Palin faced particular difficulties trying to juggle a national campaign with being government of Alaska.
The geography is bad for her because it is several time zones and the better part of a day's travel from Washington. That limits her ability to maintain her profile by dropping in on important campaign states for short visits to whip up backing for a run for president. Quitting as governor will give her an opportunity to travel and court the Republican base among which she retains considerable support. Palin will also need to spend time in the capital developing relationships with key Republican strategists.
Palin remains a front runner among Republicans nationwide as a potential presidential candidate.
But other Republicans were more critical including John Weaver, a long-time confidant of McCain.
"We've seen a lot of nutty behaviour from governors and Republican leaders in the last three months, but this one is at the top of that," Weaver told the Washington Post.
Palin's resignation was swiftly criticised as "flaky" by her Democratic opponents who said it was part of a pattern of "bizarre" behaviour.
The Democratic National Committee said she is "leaving the people of Alaska high and dry ... or she simply can't handle the job now".
The timing of the announcement on the eve of independence day led some critics to accuse her of trying to bury the news of her resignation. But given that almost nothing else was going on it might have been a move to dominate the news bulletins as it forced Michael Jackson's death from the top slot.
"Some are going to question the timing of this, and let me say this decision has been in the works for quite a while," Palin said.
Palin addressed the numerous ethics investigations launched in to her alleged misuse of office by saying that taxpayer money was being wasted and deriding them as part of the "superficial political blood sport" against her since she shot to prominence as McCain's running mate.
Palin will hand power to her deputy, lieutenant governor Sean Parnell. The next election for Alaska governor is in 2010.
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