ABC News' Imtiyaz Delawala and Bret Hovell report: One day after conceding the presidential election to Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. John McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin have gone their separate ways, both departing Phoenix today after two months on the campaign trail as the Republican presidential ticket.
Palin left the Arizona Biltmore hotel Wednesday afternoon in a motorcade stretching more than a dozen vehicles, flanked by a dozen more cops on motorcycles. She was joined by some 18 family members and friends who had made the trip from Alaska to Phoenix to watch Election Night returns.
In contrast, John McCain drove himself in his own gold Toyota Sequoia SUV -- with friend and Senate colleague Lindsey Graham riding shotgun -- from his condo in Phoenix to his secluded compound in Sedona for a few days of rest there.
The separate departures seemed a striking metaphor for the two who together sought the White House: one the party elder, not expected to run for president again, back on his own after the pomp and circumstance died down; the other a rising star in the Republican party, whose political celebrity is now nearly as big as the president-elect’s.
To be sure, McCain had resisted the Secret Service when he gained his party’s nomination, and was likely anxious for them to conclude their protection of him, preferring to drive to his Sedona ranch on his own.
Palin, on the other hand, was still 2,500 miles away from her home in Wasilla, Alaska, and was traveling with her large contingent of family and friends returning home, as well as three staff members and a full secret service detail who will continue with her for a few more days as she transitions back to her life in Alaska – where Palin drives herself to work every day.
While McCain did not speak with the press at any point today, Gov. Palin fielded questions from reporters for a second time as she departed the Arizona Biltmore hotel for the Phoenix airport, where her plane took off shortly after 4 p.m. mountain time for the nearly six-hour flight back to Alaska.
As she did this morning, Palin declined to speculate on her own future political ambitions, saying she was looking forward to returning to the governor’s office in Alaska.
But she said she plans to stay on the national scene by pushing the new Obama administration on energy policy – the issue she focused the most passion and detail on during her two months on the national campaign trail.
"I see my role as the governor of Alaska allowing our nation to become energy secure," Palin said to reporters before leaving her Phoenix hotel. "Alaska can lead this effort, and as governor I wanna be there on the forefront helping to make this nation more secure."
"So we’ll reach out to Barack Obama and to the people who he surrounds himself with," Palin said of her desire to work with the new president-elect on the issue. "A united effort that we certainly will be making here in order to secure our nation and allow us to be more prosperous."
While she had often served as the attack dog on the campaign trail, Palin expressed pride in the election of Obama as the first African-American president, and in her own historic run as the first female Republican vice presidential nominee.
"It’s been an honor and I feel like it’s just been such a blessing to have the opportunity to represent women who work hard all across this nation every single day, as they too balance that life/work balance that needs to be struck, and just being able to represent women," Palin said, while holding her six-month-old son Trig in her arms, while her seven-year-old daughter Piper and husband Todd stood at her side. Palin was dressed casually in black sweatpants and a blue sweatshirt with the words "Alaska Grown" on it -- looking more like the Alaska "hockey mom" she often touted in campaign speeches.
"It says all good things about our country, and the progress that we have made and the barriers that have come down," Palin added. "I couldn’t be more proud of where we are today, you know, this minority status now being kind of propelled to the forefront, that’s healthy."
Palin declined to engage in any criticism of her campaign, saying the experience had been "entirely positive and refreshing and energizing," and adding that the day should instead belong to President-Elect Obama and his historic election win.
"I have absolutely no intention of engaging in any of the negativity because this has been all positive for me for what I believe in, the values that I represent and the progress that I wanna see America be able to make," Palin said when asked about post-election finger-pointing. "Just absolutely no time for the pettiness. And that’s kinda just the way I’m wired. I don’t have time for that."
"This is an historic moment. Barack Obama has been elected president," Palin added. "And God bless Barack Obama and his beautiful family and the new administration coming in. It is time that we all pulled together and worked together and America’s going to reach her destiny."