JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (AP) — With days still to go in the White House race, backers of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin are talking her up as a possible contender in 2012, speculation that irritates other Republicans who contend she’s a drag on the ticket and that her lightweight image — unfair or not — will be hard to shed.
The Alaska governor has done little to quiet the talk. In fact, she fueled the discussion this week when she signaled that she will remain on the national political scene no matter what happens Tuesday. “I’m not doing this for naught,” she said in an interview with ABC News.
The telegenic Palin, who burst onto the national stage seven weeks ago, has divided conservatives — some energized by her strong stand on social issues and others embarrassed by her halting interview performances. On the campaign trail, she is a popular draw, attracting numbers that a Republican Party searching for female star power can’t ignore.
The divide is clearly evident.
George Will, a prominent con servative columnist, suggested “Palin has become an even heavier weight in John McCain’s saddle than is his association with George W. Bush.”
Indeed, a poll released this week by the Pew Research Center found that 49 percent of voters had an unfavorable opinion of Palin, compared to 44 percent who viewed her favorably. Pew also found that unlike past vice presidential choices, opinions of Palin mattered to the ticket.
None of that is apparent as Palin campaigns across battleground states in the closing days of the presidential contest. She drew huge crowds to a rally in southern Missouri on Thursday, and 16,000 jammed in to see her Wednesday night in Jeffersonville, Ind., many wearing “Sarahcuda” T-shirts and buttons saying “I’m a bitter gun owner, and I vote.”
Pell Blakeman, a Palin supporter who now calls himself “Pell the Electrician” in honor of the infamous Joe the Plumber, captured her appeal this way: “She just connects with the people. She’s doing a fine job, and she’ll make a fine president one day.”
Palin’s future will be a top item on the agenda at a meeting of national conservatives scheduled next Thursday outside Washington. Participants in the meeting have declined to offer many specifics but said Palin’s role in the conservative movement, either as vice president or as a 2012 contender if the GOP ticket loses, will be discussed.