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Sarah Palin chose a slow news day before a holiday to shake up the political world, saying she will step down as governor of Alaska but leaving open the question of her political future.

"We've got to put first things first. I love my job, and I love Alaska. I am doing what's best for Alaska," Palin said Friday at a televised news conference in her hometown of Wasilla.

Palin said she hoped people would not be disappointed by the decision, which she said she had contemplated for some time.

She said she was taking "my fight for what's right in a new direction."

Palin said she could be more effective and better serve Alaska and the country from outside the governor's office.

At a news conference before the Fourth of July weekend, Palin said she would step aside and be replaced by Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell on July 26. She said the transition of power would be smooth. She took no questions.

Palin, who is very popular with the Republican Party's conservative base, was considered a possibility for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. Not being governor would free her to concentrate on accumulating resources for a national race.

Palin did not say that's what she intended to do.

The governor said she was willing to transfer power so that the current Alaska administration can continue.

"My choice is to take a stand and effect change and not just hit our head against the wall," Palin said while surrounded by her family and top state officials.

"Millions of dollars go down the drain in this new political environment," she said.

"Rather, we know we can effect positive change outside government," she continued, and "actually make a difference."

Palin criticized recent political attacks, including one from former campaign aides of Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who headed the GOP presidential ticket in 2008.

"You are naive if you don't see a full-court press from the national level picking away a good point guard," she said, referring to criticism of her campaigning style.

The most recent criticism was in an article in the magazine Vanity Fair.

Palin, elected in 2006, is in her first term as governor. Despite bickering with the state Legislature, she probably would have been re-elected next year, and may have done serious damage to her political aspirations by stepping down now, according to Ivan Moore, an independent pollster in Anchorage, Alaska.

"I don't minimize how she is revered by the Republican right, nationally," Moore said.

"But at the end of the day, to become president she's going to have to convince that 5 percent or 10 percent of people in the middle, ideologically, that she and McCain didn't convince last year, and those people are not going to be impressed that in her first four years sitting in high office she quit halfway through."

Moore said Palin would have been a strong favorite to win a second term, even though her popularity has fallen from past heights. Her approval rating is still in the 50 percent to 55 percent range, the pollster said.

Many Alaskans believed she would not seek a second term, but probably would wait until spring to make her announcement to avoid being a lame duck.

Friday's announcement came out of the blue. "It's a gob-smacking, jaw-hit-the-ground, total kind of surprise," Moore said.

Stuart Rothenberg, an independent analyst and publisher of the Rothenberg Politi cal Report, said Palin's announcement won't improve the perception held by some of her as a lightweight.

"It's very, very curious," he said. "There almost has to be more to this because people don't just step down from a state's top office in the middle of a term."

"I always thought after the [2008] race, the thing she needed to do was go back to Alaska and be substantive, show she's got a grasp of government and work for the folks back home. This seems to be the exact opposite," Rothenberg said.

But Scott Reed, a Republican strategist who is unaffiliated for 2012, said Friday's announcement could be a good thing because it allows Palin to turn the page and start rebuilding her image.

He described the Vanity Fair article as a "hit job" that showed Palin that she had to shake things up.

Stepping down "allows her to begin to draw a new narrative on herself," Reed said.

"If anything," he said, this "allows her to have a brand-new day, a fresh start, and she can shake all these cobwebs from the last campaign and her term as governor and start over."

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