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Palin: Tea Partiers "Have to Pick a Party"

In front of a crowd of Republican Party activists and the tea-party movement's rank and file here on Tuesday night, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin seemed to put a damper on speculation that she might consider running for president in 2012 as a third-party candidate.

Asked what her advice would be to conservatives as the November elections approach, Palin first lavished praise on the Tea Party movement, calling it "a grand movement" and adding, "I love it because it's all about the people."

But she quickly pivoted to the broader question of whether the Tea Party movement might successfully field its own candidates in national elections, and on that point she sounded far from convinced.

"Now the smart thing will be for independents who are such a part of this Tea Party movement to, I guess, kind of start picking a party," Palin said. "Which party reflects how that smaller, smarter government steps to be taken? Which party will best fit you? And then because the Tea Party movement is not a party, and we have a two-party system, they're going to have to pick a party and run one or the other: 'R' or 'D'."

Palin said that the Republican platform best meshed with the Tea Party's creed. However, she mentioned that her husband Todd was not a registered Republican and that the party should be open to embracing independents.

Palin used her 45-minute speech and the Q&A session that featured pre-selected questions from the crowd to sound off on everything from what she called the "snake-oil science" of global warming to politicians who are "addicted to 'O-P-M'-other people's money."

Many of her remarks were revived directly from the 2008 vice presidential stump, including her repeated invocations of former president Ronald Reagan.

But there was one element that Palin had to contend with on Tuesday that she rarely (if ever) did on the campaign trail: empty seats. Though the Arkansas Republican Party sold differently priced upper-level and lower-level tickets to the event at the 18,000-seat Verizon Arena, less than half of the seats in the lower bowl were occupied, and the entire upper level was shrouded by black drapes.

In the hours before the Palin event began, the Arkansas GOP was advertising on its web site a heavily discounted "$20 ticket special." The dining tables that had been set up on arena's floor, however, were full with donors who had contributed $175.

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Those who were on hand were at their most animated during Palin's remarks on national security.

The former Republican vice presidential nominee earned her first standing ovation of the evening when she asked, "how dare a terrorist who hates America and hates our Constitution be given those same rights" that are granted to her son Track and other U.S. servicemen.

Her second standing ovation came seconds later when she added, "We need to spend more time lifting up America instead of apologizing for the greatest country on earth."

Palin spent much of the evening railing against some of her favorite targets, including "elites" in Washington and the media.

When she was asked what she believed was the number one threat to America today, several audience members shouted, "Obama!"

Arkansas Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb, who moderated the Q&A session, responded by adding, "Besides Obama."

Palin then chimed in as many in the crowd laughed.

"See, they said that, I didn't," she said. "Just you watch now, too, because somebody will be here with their little Twittering thing, and it's going to be on the Internet any minute now."

Palin then said that a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime or terrorist group was the biggest threat to the country, specifically mentioning Iran, and added that she believed the country's debt also negatively affected national security.

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