MIAMI — Republican governors, down and out after the party's devastating Election Day losses, said Wednesday that the future of the GOP rests with their ranks and not Washington politicians.
"Republican governors are the only people who can propose and implement Republican policies," said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. "For America to see that Republican policies work, they're going to see it in states with Republican governors. That's always the way it is when you're the minority and the other party has the White House."
Republicans are doing some soul-searching after losing the White House and seeing their numbers decrease in the Senate and House. Many in the GOP are looking to their governors, who gathered in Florida for a three-day meeting, for a fresh direction for the party and the best prospects for winning the presidency in 2012.
Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican Party who has worked as a lawyer and lobbyist, has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in four years. He said Wednesday that the party needs to focus on the 36 governors seats up for election in two years.
"Any Republican who's thinking past 2010 doesn't have his eye on the ball," Barbour said.
Still, fueling the 2012 speculation was the attendance at the gathering of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, this year's GOP vice presidential nominee who has been sending the clearest signals yet that she would be interested in running for the top job. Palin has a news conference on Thursday and is scheduled to participate in a panel discussion titled, "Looking Towards the Future: The GOP in Transition."
She was asked Wednesday about speculation that she is the party's future.
"I don't think it's me personally, I think it's what I represent," Palin told reporters. "Everyday hardworking American families _ a woman on the ticket perhaps represents that. It would be good for the ticket. It would be good for the party. I would be happy to get to do whatever is asked of me to help progress this nation."
In an interview on CNN's "The Situation Room," Palin was asked about 2012, and said she was "not ruling that out but there again, that is based on my philosophy that it's crazy to close a door before you know what's even open in front of you."
In a separate interview, Palin told CNN's Larry King that she didn't think she cost John McCain the election, but if she did she was sorry.
"I personally don't think that I, Sarah Palin from Alaska, the VP pick, I don't believe that I caused the outcome to be what it was," she said, adding: "If I caused even one person to shy away from electing an American hero, John McCain, to the presidency, than I apologize."
The latest CNN/Opinion Research poll showed 43 percent of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of Palin.
If she runs in 2012, Palin faces possible competition from a number of other governors, including Barbour, Charlie Crist of Florida, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.
"The Republican Party in my view needs more than a comb-over," Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Wednesday. "There's a lot of work to be done."
The governors focused on how to restore the GOP image with voters.
"We need to reach out more as a party and be more inclusive and come up with more common sense solutions to the problems people face everyday. What we do here in Florida can be a model," Crist said. "We've had pretty good success as it relates to helping the people, fighting for them, addressing pocketbook issues and doing it in a bipartisan fashion."
Jindal pointed out that voters now trust Democrats to control spending and cut taxes more than Republicans.
"When the Republican Party is no longer the party of fiscal conservatism ... than clearly I would argue we've lost our way," Jindal said. "We have to match our actions to our rhetoric."