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Palin drills down policy in high-profile speech

By Peter Hamby, CNN Political Producer
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Palin blasts 'the Obama doctrine'
  • NEW: Palin addresses parties' energy policies
  • Southern Republican Leadership Conference taking place in New Orleans
  • Event is considered "jump start" for 2012 presidential nominees

New Orleans, Louisiana (CNN) -- Her speeches are typically loaded with partisan zingers and Obama-bashing, but for the first time since the 2008 presidential campaign, Sarah Palin delivered a speech that focused as much on policy ideas as it did on political combat.

Her much-anticipated remarks Friday to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference were laced with a heavy dose of Republican cheerleading that drew applause from the audience of party activists who had stampeded into the venue to snag prime seating for her appearance.

"There is no shame in being the 'party of no' if the other side is proposing an idea that violates our values, violates our conscience, violates the Constitution," she said, deviating from the remarks of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who urged the crowd Thursday to pivot to being the "party of yes."

The three-day event is billed as the largest GOP gathering of party officials, operatives, activists and strategists before the 2012 Republican National Convention, when the party will formally nominate its candidate for president.

Although the 2012 election may seem far in the future, early jockeying is under way, and the conference is considered the jump-start for possible Republican White House hopefuls.

Without shying away from heated partisan rhetoric, Palin spent the latter half of her talk expounding on differences between Democratic and Republican energy policies, a comfortable topic for the former Alaska governor and onetime chairwoman of the state's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

She called President Obama's decision to expand offshore drilling "smoke and mirrors," cover for a slate of more liberal energy policies that he and Democrats in Congress plan to enact.

She also faulted the Obama administration for not opening more areas to oil and gas drilling, particularly in her home state.

It's time to "stop ignoring" the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, she said, even if a caribou has to "take one for the team."

"It's 'drill, baby, drill,' not 'stall, baby, stall,' " she said.

Video: Sarah Palin rallies for congresswoman

On foreign policy, Palin launched a volley of attacks against the White House that echoed some of the missives she has posted on her Facebook page over the past year. The Obama administration, she claimed, "alienates our friends."

"They treated Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai poorly and acted surprised when he reacted in kind," she said. "And they escalated a minor zoning decision into a major breach with Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East."

And Palin couldn't resist a mocking jab at Obama after he charged in an ABC News interview that she is "not much of an expert" on nuclear weapons.

"And President Obama, with all that vast nuclear expertise he acquired as a community organizer, a part-time senator and a candidate for president, has accomplished nothing to date with Iran or North Korea," she said.

Palin has found the political spotlight shining on her quite often this year.

The 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee gave the keynote address at the first National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, in February, which was carried live by cable news networks. So was her speech at a campaign rally in Arizona last month for her former running mate, Arizona Sen. John McCain, who is attempting to fend off a primary challenge from the right from former Rep. J.D. Hayworth.

And Palin was the main attraction on the cable news networks the next day, as she helped kick off the third Tea Party Express national bus tour. The event was held in Searchlight, Nevada, hometown of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who also faces a very tough re-election this year. Tea Party Express is backing efforts to defeat Reid in November.

Expect to see more of Palin. The darling of conservatives and hero to the Tea Party movement headlines another Tea Party Express rally Wednesday in Boston, Massachusetts. Organizers predict a large crowd for the event. And Palin is scheduled to address the Susan B. Anthony List, a prominent anti-abortion group, and the National Rifle Association next month.

The big question regarding Palin's White House prospects is whether Republican voters take her seriously as a contender. According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted last month, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee are bunched together at the front of the pack within a few points of one another in a hypothetical 2012 GOP presidential nomination horse race. All other Republicans polled single digits.

But only 46 percent of Republicans questioned in an ABC News/Washington Post survey from February thought Palin was qualified to be president.

Potentially troubling numbers for someone who may -- repeat, may -- have ambitions to live in the White House.

CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.