Is Palin A Drag On McCain's Campaign?

GOP presidential nominee John McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin are campaigning separately Thursday after a pair of tag-team rallies Wednesday in the battleground state of Ohio. Palin continues to energize the Republican base, but there are signs she's not helping the ticket win broader appeal.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep, good morning. Sarah Palin made one of the biggest splashes in the history of vice presidential nominees. But there are signs she is not helping John McCain as much as he might have hoped.

MONTAGNE: Twelve days before the election, Sarah Palin has energized the voters who form the core of the Republican Party. Trouble is that in 2008 McCain may need more than his party's base voters.

INSKEEP: And Palin's popularity has been dropping just as millions of Americans cast early ballots. NPR's Scott Horsley is covering the McCain campaign.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Even when she's not around, John McCain likes to tap Sarah Palin's star power. He did so yesterday during a rally in a half-filled hockey arena in Goffstown, New Hampshire.

(Soundbite of Republican campaign rally, New Hampshire)

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): One of the great hockey moms in America, my governor and my - Sarah Palin, a wonderful person. I'm so proud of the enthusiasm that Sarah Palin has sparked across this country, and I'm proud to have her as my running mate. And I know you're proud of her, too.

(Soundbite of crowd ovation)

HORSLEY: McCain drew a much bigger crowd later in the day in Ohio, where he was joined by Palin. Country singer Gretchen Wilson was the warm-up act.

(Soundbite of Republican campaign rally, Ohio)

Ms. GRETCHEN WILSON (Country Singer): Hey, I want to play this song and dedicate it to Ms. Sarah Palin.

(Soundbite of rock music)

HORSLEY: Sarah the Barracuda, as she was known on the high school basketball court, continues to inspire passionate support from many of the GOP faithful, especially social conservatives like Norma Running(ph) who turned out to see Palin and McCain at a high school football stadium in Green, Ohio.

Ms. NORMA RUNNING: I'm a values voter. The right to life and the gay marriage thing, we're not for that. We believe marriage to be one man and one woman.

HORSLEY: Running says she would have voted for McCain in any case, but his choice of Palin as his vice presidential pick definitely added to her enthusiasm.

Ms. RUNNING: We knew that he was serious. We know when he added Governor Palin that he - his values were our values. We're thrilled, and God bless them. And God bless America.

HORSLEY: But for every voter who's inspired by Palin, there's more than one who's turned off. Paul(ph), who didn't want to give his last name, attended a McCain rally in Toledo over the weekend. He's still trying to decide how to vote.

PAUL: I'm interdependent(ph). I'm on the fence.

HORSLEY: What's it going to take to kind of sway you one way or the other?

PAUL: Him dumping Palin.

HORSLEY: When pollsters from The Wall Street Journal and NBC asked voters what concerns them about McCain's ticket, Palin was the number one response. Forty-seven percent of the voters surveyed have a negative impression of the Alaska governor, while just 38 percent see her in a positive light. Palin's negatives have jumped ten points in the last two weeks. What's more, 55 percent of voters say Palin is not qualified to step in as president if necessary. That undercuts one of the principle arguments McCain's been making on the stump: experience.

(Soundbite of McCain stump speech)

Senator MCCAIN: I have been tested. Senator Obama hasn't.

HORSLEY: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell also raised concerns about Palin's readiness when he endorsed Barack Obama over the weekend. This week it was reported that the Republican National Committee spent $150,000 on clothing and accessories for Palin and her family in early September after she was chosen as McCain's running mate. The shopping spree at Neiman Marcus and other upscale stores might seem at odds with a campaign that's pitching its message to everyday Joe the Plumbers, but for many in yesterday's Ohio audience, Palin still connects in a way that one supporter described as fresh and genuine.

(Soundbite of Republican campaign rally, Ohio)

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska; Republican Vice Presidential Candidate): And I see Gretchen Wilson over there. And I need to get your autograph before we leave. Hello. Yes.

(Soundbite of crowd ovation)

Governor PALIN: Someone called me a redneck woman once. And you know what I said back? I said, why, thank you.

(Soundbite of crowd laughing)

HORSLEY: That homespun style of Palin's has given a lift to McCain with some voters, but it looks to be a drag on his campaign with even more. Scott Horsley, NPR News, with the McCain campaign, Daytona Beach, Florida.

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