ROCK HILL -- As Sarah Palin wonders whether to run for president, she might want to talk to people in places such as South Carolina.

She would 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 Palin didn't have the experience, the knowledge of issues or the ability to get beyond folksy slang and bumper-sticker generalities that they think are needed to win and govern.

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 is equally conservative.

"Sarah Palin with a brain," is how Gail Moore, a Republican from Columbia, characterized Bachmann.

While national polls show that Palin still would win the support of about 1 in 5 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.

"Her major weakness is that she needs to bone up on how the government works," said Don Long, a retiree from Lake Wylie. "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.

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."

Some at the dinner said she hurt herself by quitting halfway through her term as governor of Alaska, robbing herself of a platform in government.

That shortfall is 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 House 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 like her.

Even worse for GOP activists, she looks weak against President Barack Obama, a crucial factor for Republicans yearning for a champion who can oust Obama from office.

A recent McClatchy Newspapers-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.