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Starting Gate: Palin's Rising Star?

There seems to be a consensus within political circles that John McCain's selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate has turned into a political drag on his campaign.

The evidence is convincing. Despite the initial splash and favorable reaction to her acceptance speech at the Republican convention, she hasn't worn well with voters. Her favorable rating in the latest CBS News/New York Times poll stands at just 31 percent, nine points below her unfavorable rating. Polls universally show that majorities of voters don't believe she's "qualified" to be president, should that become necessary. Many say they don't even believe she's prepared to be vice president.

After a spate of interviews in which she appeared to be confused or not answer question, Palin's list of critics has grown to include conservative columnists and pundits and even members of her own party. Her selection was one of the primary reasons Colin Powell listed when explaining his decision to endorse Barack Obama over McCain, his longtime friend. And the recent revelation of the GOP's $150,000 shopping spree seems to have further diminished her political standing.

And yet Palin remains by far the most intriguing candidate in the race for Americans. She draws enormous crowds and has a faithful following among many in her party, for sure, but she doesn't outdo Obama in that department. But nobody does ratings like Palin. Her acceptance speech at the Republican convention drew over 37 million viewers, just shy of the 38 million who watched Obama's. The vice presidential debate drew an astounding 70 million viewers, far more than the 63 million who tuned into the most-watched presidential debate.

Ask any television producer or editor, stories about Palin are consumer magnets. Whether it's the controversy over her wardrobe or a simple biographical piece, she draws enormous interest from both those who like her and those who don't. It's no wonder then that Hollywood has taken notice.

Perhaps spurred by her well-received appearance on Saturday Night Live, the entertainment world is looking to capitalize on the Palin magic, according to a report in the Hollywood Reporter. "As more and more polls cast doubt on the McCain-Palin ticket, producers and agents across the entertainment world are discussing possibilities for capitalizing on her fame, ranging from an Oprah-style syndicated talk show to a Sean Hannity-like perch in cable news or on radio," according to the report.

It's a stretch to think of Palin pulling a reverse Schwarzenegger and go from the governor's mansion to Hollywood. She's not just a politician, she's part of a conservative ideological movement and seems more interested in energy policy than showbiz. Anything could happen but Palin's future would seem to be in politics.

Such talk and interest however is evidence that future could be very bright indeed, perhaps limitless, no matter what her critics might say. Unlike some divisive and dismissed political figure of the past, Palin will come out of this election a winner of sorts regardless of the outcome. Should her ticket win, she'll likely be thrust into the most-watched vice presidency in history. Should they lose, she will head home as the most recognized figure in Alaska's history.

Critics and opponents should be careful about dismissing Palin as an unqualified and incurious backwoods governor. If nothing else, she's proven to be a quick study, an enthusiastic advocate and an energetic politician who's become a household name. There aren't many potential presidential candidates for 2012 who wouldn't want those qualities in their corner.

Around The Track

  • As expected, the New York Times endorses Obama and has some harsh criticism oh McCain, who the paper backed in the Republican primary: "Mr. McCain, whom we chose as the best Republican nominee in the primaries, has spent the last coins of his reputation for principle and sound judgment to placate the limitless demands and narrow vision of the far-right wing. His righteous fury at being driven out of the 2000 primaries on a racist tide aimed at his adopted daughter has been replaced by a zealous embrace of those same win-at-all-costs tactics and tacticians."
  • According to FEC reports released late last night, Obama raised $37 million between Oct. 1 and 15 and spent $105.6 million. Between his campaign, the DNC and a joint Obama/DNC fund, Obama had $97 million available as of the 15th. McCain, who's taking public funding, reported $25.2 million on hand as of the 15th. Combined with the RNC, McCain had around $84.2 million on hand as of the 15th.
  • Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who earlier this year wrote a book highly critical of his former boss, is endorsing Obama.
  • Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker, a conservative-leaning writer who recently broke with McCain over his choice of Palin, suggests his decision on that regard may have been clouded by the attractive Alaska governor: "Though it isn't over yet, it seems clear that McCain made a tragic, if familiar, error under that sycamore tree. Will he join the pantheon of men who, intoxicated by a woman's power, made the wrong call?"
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