After Letterman apology, what's next for Palin?

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    Just like the Sarah Palin action figure, the real-life Sarah Palin proved her mettle against late night host David Letterman. The comic made a public apology to Palin and her family on Monday night.
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Now that Sarah Palin has accepted David Letterman's apology for the tasteless joke he told last week, will the controversy end or will it keep going?

In Palin's mind, it's probably over. She not only got the apology she was looking for but she even found support from unsuspecting sources like the View's Joy Behar and the left-leaning National Organization for Women.

The apology's not enough to satisfy the most die-hard Palin fans, however. A protest will be held in front of the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York today.

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Regardless of whether there's any life left to this, Palin has proved she can win a smackdown with one of the kings of late night. Letterman has also shown he knows how to grab headlines, apologizing multiple times until he gets it right, exactly when he needs to: Conan O’Brien is struggling as Jay Leno’s successor over at NBC, and this is Letterman’s big chance to steal viewers.

Big deal?

Does the future of the republic hang on any of this? No. But the politics of it do matter. Despite the not-ready-for-prime-time quality to her operation, Palin is not finished as a national political figure. She still has more star power than anyone else in the GOP. She has reminded us she’s a tough mama bear. Voters like tough. Now she needs to get back to the main show, beefing up her profile as a serious leader, not just a celebrity.

She can even be the Republican nominee for 2012 – or at least Roger Simon at Politico thinks so.

2010

That’s probably a long shot, but in a couple of years, who will remember this Letterman dustup? A lot of people think Palin needs to get out of Alaska, and get closer to the action. Maybe. She could still, theoretically, try for the Senate in 2010 by running against incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary. But she might well lose. Murkowski is very popular.

“You can only beat one Murkowski in your life,” says Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report, referring to Palin’s defeat of Lisa’s dad, then-incumbent Gov. Frank Murkowski, in the 2006 GOP primary.

Another option is to pull a Pawlenty – announce she’s not running for reelection, as the Minnesota governor has done, to focus on “other things.” But Palin may be best served by staying right where she is, doing a great job as governor of Alaska, and boning up on domestic and foreign policy. How can she do that?

Says Duffy: “She needs her own Kennedy School.”

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