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Is Palin running for prez? On LI, nobody's saying no

Nine months ago, the 2008 presidential campaign reached a late crescendo on Long Island with the final debate in Hempstead between Barack Obama and John McCain.

Last evening, the 2012 campaign got what may have been one of its earliest pen strokes when Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin appeared before a packed St. James fundraiser for Independent Group Home Living.

Her position going into the event was that it was all about the nonpartisan good cause and that politics would be for another day. The invitation, of course, sprang from the fact that her youngest child, Trig, was born in April 2008 with Down syndrome.

She spoke off the cuff, rambling a bit, but her audience responded with warmth to her proclamation of solidarity with them and her expressions of humility for being honored.

"We don't ask, 'why me, why us.' We say, at this point, finally - and to be honest with you it took a while for us to get to the place, where would we say, 'Thank you God . . .' "

Palin's first sweep through the Lower 48 since the campaign had its political meaning, of course, and she did a bit of Beltway-bashing in upstate settings over the weekend. At the sold-out, $125-per-seat St. James event, she cited the sanctity of life, and said, "just because our ticket placed second - second out of two - you still have an advocate . . . for the cause." (She meant "despite" rather than "because," but everyone got it.)

One guest, Mariano Patane of East Northport, liked that, upon arriving, Palin was chatting first with other parents of developmentally disabled kids - and had to be pulled away to move on to a reception before the dinner. He brought up the campaign. "I do believe she is a quick study and don't think she was ready this time at all. She was thrown in the deep end too quickly," he said. But he added: "She's someone I'd watch out for in the future."

Palin talked of patriotism she saw in her first visit to the immediate area, praised a "gold-star father" she'd met.

Local political dignitaries on hand were Republicans, from Suffolk Legis. Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) to three GOP state lawmakers.

According to IGHL chief executive Walter Stockton, Palin received no fee. But that won't keep members of the nonprofit board from contributing to her political action committee, sources said.

As the first female candidate on a Republican national ticket, she visits us now as a nationally known political brand.

On Saturday, she played on this. Citing a painting she had been given by officials in Auburn, Palin was quoted as quipping: "They're looking at a globe and they're pointing to Alaska in this painting and, I'll bet you anything, what Seward was pointing out was, lookie there, you see Russia from Alaska."

She didn't say if she sees herself running for national office again. But nobody Sunday night was saying it isn't so, Joe. Signing off, she said, "God bless New York and God bless America."

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