ROCK HILL, S.C. — As Sarah Palin wonders whether to run for president, she might want to talk to people in places such as South Carolina.
She'd find her star fading, and her prospects daunting.
Republicans still like her, but now they openly question whether she could or should be nominated for president, let alone elected.
At a recent gathering in South Carolina, the site of a crucial early presidential primary next year, party activists said the former Alaska governor didn't have the experience, the knowledge of issues or the ability to get beyond folksy slang and bumper-sticker generalities that they think is needed to win and govern.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Many are shopping for someone else. They're looking at Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., for example, and seeing what they call a smarter, more experienced candidate who's equally as conservative.
"Sarah Palin with a brain," said Gail Moore, a Republican from Columbia.
While national polls show that Palin still would win the support of about one in five Republicans in a national face-off today for the nomination, she no longer can claim the dominant role she enjoyed when she burst out of the 2008 campaign as the undisputed star of the party. She's also losing ground quickly among independents, who hold the keys to the White House.
"Her major weakness is that she needs to bone up on how the government works," said Don Long, a retiree from Lake Wylie, S.C. "I don't know if she's done as much of that as she needs to."
Long was one of about 150 Republicans who showed up for a fundraising dinner of the York County Republican Party, where they ate barbecued pork sandwiches from Bats BBQ — "You'll love the way we rub your butt" — and talked presidential politics.
Many already had seen potential candidates in person, such as Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and came this time to hear Bachmann.
In interviews, most volunteered criticism of Palin.
"I like Palin," said Joseph Kejr, a Republican from Rock Hill who works in information technology for a Christian ministry. However, he added, "she's not polished in national government. In terms of leadership, I don't know about her."
"I'm not a big Sarah Palin fan," said Joe Thompson of York, who manages a small business and is the president of the South Carolina District 5 Patriots, a group devoted to the Constitution and against big government spending, taxes and programs. "I like her ideas. I'm not sure she'd be able to manage a lot of things she'd have to handle as president."
"She's not really creative," said Swain Shepperd, a retiree from Rock Hill. "She just repeats what's already been said by others."
Some said she hurt herself by quitting halfway through her term as governor of Alaska, robbing herself of a platform in government.
That shortfall's become more glaring as party activists have cheered on people who are now governing and fighting to cut spending, such as Govs. Chris Christie in New Jersey, Nikki Haley in South Carolina, Rick Scott in Florida and Scott Walker in Wisconsin, as well as Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives such as Bachmann.
Also, Palin could have problems beyond the party. Polls show that the more the American public has seen of Palin, the less they've liked her.
Since she lit up the national stage in the fall of 2008 as the party's plain-talking vice presidential nominee, the ranks of people who have favorable impressions of her have dropped and the number with an unfavorable impression has spiked.
A Gallup poll taken in September 2008, for example, found that 53 percent had favorable views of her and 28 percent held unfavorable views. Last month, the same poll found the numbers were almost reversed, 38-53.
Even worse for GOP activists, she looks weak against President Barack Obama, a crucial factor for Republicans yearning for a champion who can oust the Democrat from the White House.
A recent McClatchy-Marist poll found that Obama would trounce her by 56-30 percent if the election were held now.
That was by far the weakest among three big-name Republicans tested; Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee each fared better against Obama. And it was considerably weaker than her standing just a month before, when she trailed Obama by 52-40 percent.
The key reason: She's lost support among independents, and she gets far less support from that swing bloc than the other two Republicans tested do.
It's been a surprising turn since 2008, said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York, which conducts the McClatchy-Marist Poll. Despite a barrage of criticism of Palin by Democrats and the news media, she came out of the election looking as if she'd be the major force for the party's nomination.
"She doesn't appeal to the center, and she hasn't been trying to," Miringoff said.
"There's a general sense among Republicans that this is someone they like being part of the 2012 narrative," Miringoff said. "They don't mind her pushing the edge of the envelope on issues. But there's concern about electability, about polarization. They're not necessarily sure she should be the nominee."
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
For more McClatchy politics coverage visit Planet Washington