Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin ended her months-long flirtation with a presidential bid Wednesday, announcing in a letter to supporters that she will use her influence next year to help elect Republicans to statehouses, Congress and the White House.

Palin’s announcement, which also cited the needs of her family, ends nearly a year of media speculation about her political aspirations. She fueled that speculation with regular public comments and posts on Twitter and Facebook, and with a high-profile bus tour over the summer that included stops in key early-voting states.

Among the questions now are whether she will choose to play a role in winnowing the Republican field, or confine herself to remaining one of President Obama’s chief adversaries.

GOP strategists said Wednesday that Palin’s popularity with tea party activists and her fundraising prowess would help any candidate she aligns herself with. Several presidential contenders quickly issued complimentary statements after Palin’s announcement, suggesting that the courtship for her endorsement has begun.

“Sarah Palin is a good friend, a great American and a true patriot,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry said in a prepared statement. She will “continue to be a strong voice for conservative values and needed change in Washington.”

Palin’s decision did not come as a surprise to most political strategists, who believed it was too late for her to build a winning organization so close to January, when primary voting is expected to begin.

The news ends an era for Palin, who rocketed to stardom after being chosen by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as his running mate in 2008 and since then has become something of a cultural phenomenon. Speculation about whether she would run again for national office has never stopped.

Yet some Republicans, and Palin herself, said the announcement also represents a new beginning, allowing the Fox News commentator and tea party favorite to continue wielding political influence through the 2012 election.

“You’re unshackled, and you’re allowed to be more active,” Palin said in a radio interview with Mark Levin.

In a letter to supporters read aloud on Levin’s show and later posted on Facebook, Palin said: “We need to continue to actively and aggressively help those who will stop the ‘fundamental transformation’ of our nation and instead seek the restoration of our greatness, our goodness and our constitutional republic based on the rule of law. In the coming weeks, I will help coordinate strategies to assist in replacing the president, retaking the Senate and maintaining the House.”

Coming just a day after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie reaffirmed his own decision to sit out the race, Palin’s decision virtually seals the Republican field after months of uncertainty about who else might jump in.

“Republican voters may not be settled, but the Republican field is,” said GOP strategist Alex Castellanos, who supported Mitt Romney in 2008 but is uncommitted so far this time around.

Romney has emerged as the front-runner, but his support is not deep, largely because of conservatives’ reservations about his moderate positions on some issues and his advocacy for health care reform while governor of Massachusetts. Other candidates, including Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., have soared in popularity and just as quickly fallen as voters have looked for an alternative to Romney.

News of Palin’s decision elicited a variety of reactions from Republicans, some of whom said she made the only possible choice given that most GOP voters, according to polls, had already decided they didn’t want her to run.

Some Republicans were critical of Palin’s flirtation with a presidential bid, which they viewed as a thinly veiled effort to retain her celebrity.

“Palin had everything to lose by running,” said Mark McKinnon, a GOP strategist who worked for McCain in 2008. “Now she preserves her celebrity status, her power to generate fees and her ability to be a king- and queen-maker.”

For months, Palin has been stoking rumors that she would get into the race, launching a flashy “One Nation” bus tour that took her to New Hampshire and Iowa, telling Newsweek she could win, and taking shots at Obama on Facebook and Twitter. But she never built the kind of political operation considered necessary for a serious campaign.

In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, 66 percent of Republican and GOP-leaning respondents said they did not want Palin to run.