MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Despite those legal troubled, Sarah Palin has shaken up the presidential race, and Republicans are hoping she'll win over women and voters across the country. NPR's Linda Wertheimer has been out listening to three separate groups of women talk about Governor Palin in the swing state of Virginia.
LINDA WERTHEIMER: Prince William County matters because it's a part of Virginia that could go either way, and we found opinion fairly divided on Sarah Palin, as well. We talked to three groups, including a group of middle-aged women who take riding lessons once a week and then have lunch. We found them at the Ashton Diner in Manassas. Kay Finney is a registered nurse.
Ms. KAY FINNEY (Registered Nurse): I like that she was in your face, and I like that she was straightforward. And she says, you know, I've been a mayor of a small town, and I've been a governor of Alaska. And that's it. And I think she's a breath of fresh air, and I'm excited that she's on the ticket.
WERTHEIMER: Finney says she was planning to vote for McCain anyway, but before Palin, she was not that excited about it. We also met with Mystery Book Club members in Manassas. Pat Margalaise(ph) is a retired teacher from Nokesville. She says she was undecided.
Ms. PAT MARGALAISE (Retired Teacher): I wasn't really happy with either candidate. I think I'm happier now that she's on the ticket. So I guess I am leaning toward McCain.
WERTHEIMER: What did she bring that you liked?
Ms. MARGALAISE: Her energy.
WERTHEIMER: Women who won't necessarily vote for her still say they admire Sarah Palin. Peggy Smith is a riding instructor. She's undecided. She says she disagrees with Palin but finds her sharp and confident, and it's not just because she's a woman.
Ms. PEGGY SMITH (Riding Instructor): I think it's more that she doesn't come across so much as a lifetime professional politician, which she started truly at a place where any woman could go out and start.
WERTHEIMER: That any woman appeal really came across to Heather Melugin. She's one of a group of young mothers we met, most of them home schoolers. At first, Heather Melugin jumped on the Sarah Palin bandwagon.
Ms. HEATHER MELUGIN (Mother): She has a special needs child. I have a special needs child. She is a working mom. I've been a working mom. You know, she has a teenage daughter, I think that's a huge issue in this country. And so I was really excited about that until I saw her interview with Charlie Gibson. And it really, really opened by eyes. No thought whatsoever to her family. And you think, first thing you'd say is, my husband and I discussed me returning to work, or I considered these options. Nothing like that. I've been in her position, and I can't imagine it being that easy.
WERTHEIMER: Many of the women we met raised the question of Palin's experience. Choline Norisco(ph) from Woodbridge is in the riding class. She says she is that married white woman Catholic woman pollsters say is now moving toward McCain, except she's going the other way.
Ms. CHOLINE NORISCO (Voter): In my heart of hearts, I think that the governor of Alaska probably doesn't have enough experience to be president of the United States. I don't know. I probably would have voted for McCain. I don't think that I will now. I was a Hillary supporter, so it's not a woman thing. It's just that particular woman thing.
WERTHEIMER: We also found that while Palin has energized conservatives, she's discouraged some moderates who admired McCain. Katina Sweedy (ph) is a stay at home mom who gives music lessons. She initially liked both Obama and McCain.
Ms. KATINA SWEEDY(Mother): And then Sarah Palin came in, and what if McCain were to die? That's really what it was for me. And basically, everything I care about, except for my pro-life choices, she's against. So I just - it terrifies me to have her as president of the United States.
WERTHEIMER: Another of our young mothers, Stephanie Elms, who supports Barack Obama, thought the Sarah Palin pick said something about McCain and his decisions.
Ms. STEPHANIE ELMS (Mother): People are saying it's a maverick thing, but I think it's a risky thing. And I think the idea that he could possibly, you know, pull something like that in foreign policy, that really, really worries me.
WERTHEIMER: And under the heading of unintended consequences, Mary Bedamian (ph), a retired librarian from Bristow, told us she worries McCain looks unwell. I asked if seeing him with his much-younger running mate might have triggered that thought.
Ms. MARY BEDAMIAN (Retired Librarian): I hadn't thought of it at all, but as soon as you said that, I, in my mind, saw the two of them standing side by side, and I'm like, you know, she is a vibrant person. There is a heck of a contrast there, and it's not in his favor.
WERTHEIMER: Mary Bedamian says she still wants to vote for John McCain. We also asked all three groups of Virginia voters we met whether this week's economic news now seemed more important to them than the choice of vice presidential candidates. All three said that it did. Linda Wertheimer, NPR News.
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