Janet Napolitano wasn't the only female governor Ed Rendell was heard sizing up over an open mike at Tuesday's National Governors Conference.

He also opined about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, praising her "very good political instincts" in a conversation picked up near the podium.

In dispute is whether Rendell is also heard saying, "She's not a genius."

Rendell caught some flak after saying of Napolitano, Arizona's Democratic governor, that she was a "perfect" choice to be the new chief of Homeland Security "because for that job you have to have no life. Janet has no family."

CNN commentator Campbell Brown questioned whether Rendell was being a bit sexist, suggesting that women with families are less willing or able to do tough jobs.

Rendell responded that he meant no disrespect, and wasn't expressing a double standard. "She has no life; neither do I," he told reporters yesterday.

A spokeswoman for Napolitano declined to say whether the Arizona governor found the original comments sexist.

This morning, CNN confirmed that Rendell said of Palin: "Look, she has a right to be here. I think she has great instincts. . . . She has very good political instincts . . . cooperate where we can because that's what the American people want to hear . . . not bull----."

From her widely praised speech at the Republican National Convention to the enthusiastic crowds she drew during the campaign, Palin, a self-described "hockey mom," often demonstrated a knack for connecting with people.

PolitickerPA.com, however, reports that the full quote includes, "She's not a genius, but she has very good political instincts."

The "not a genius" part is so difficult to hear, it's uncertain if Rendell said it, according to CNN.

During a report last night, CNN characterized the comments about Palin as positive, "in a Rendell kind of way," according to Capitol Punmanship, a lancasteronline.com blog.

A Rendell spokesman emphasized that the most audible comments clearly praised Palin.

"I don't know what further comment needs to be made," said Chuck Ardo.

He didn't know whether Rendell, who worked "from early morning till very late in the evening," had phoned Napolitano yet.

"I certainly didn't mean it the wrong way," Rendell said yesterday of his remarks about Napolitano.

By the way, the consistency of Brown's views have also come into question. During a September interview, Brown asked how Palin could run for office while her teenage daughter, Bristol, was expecting, points out Tom Blumer of NewsBusters.org.

"How do you respond to people who wonder why her mother would have subjected her to this kind of scrutiny by accepting this high-profile position?" Brown asked Tucker Bounds, spokesman for John McCain's campaign.

Later she also asked him: "And so you do risk putting her through an incredibly difficult process by accepting this job if you're her mother. You can't deny that, right?"

Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.