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Could 'Palin factor' save McCain?

  • Story Highlights
  • Gov. Palin continues to draw larger crowds than her running mate, Sen. McCain
  • Palin popular within GOP, but some elite Republicans view her as unqualified
  • Palin could emerge as face of Republican Party if McCain loses
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From Ed Henry
CNN
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GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado (CNN) -- As the presidential campaigns enter their final days, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is getting the rock star treatment, drawing much bigger crowds than her running mate, Sen. John McCain.

But it's still a mystery whether the "Palin factor" will drive enough conservatives to the polls to offset Sen. Barack Obama's gains with independent voters.

During her stops in battleground states, Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, has continued her role as the main attack dog.

She continues to rip into the Democratic ticket, suggesting that Obama and Sen. Joe Biden's plan to raise the taxes of those making over $250,000 smacks of "socialism."

"Barack Obama calls it 'spreading the wealth.' Joe Biden calls higher taxes patriotic. Joe the plumber said it sounded to him like socialism. And now is not the time to experiment with that," Palin said during a rally Monday in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Rank-and-file Republicans are digging her feistiness, but many question whether she can draw voters outside of her party's conservative base. Video Watch how the 'Palin factor' could shape the race »

"It may well be that there is ... a group of people out there now who find it politically incorrect to be for Sarah Palin in public, but they're going to vote for her in the privacy of the voting booth," said David Gergen, a CNN senior political analyst.

And the Alaska governor, who is still in her first term, still faced doubts that she is qualified to be vice president. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is hardly alone among establishment Republicans in believing Palin actually hurts their party's ticket.

"She's a very distinguished woman, and she's to be admired. But at the same time, now that we have had a chance to watch her for some seven weeks, I don't believe she's ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president," Powell told NBC's Tom Brokaw on Sunday.

Conservative columnists have also voiced reservations about Palin. David Brooks of The New York Times has called Palin a "cancer" on the Republican Party, and former Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan wrote in The Wall Street Journal, "There is little sign that she has the tools, the equipment, the knowledge or the philosophical grounding one hopes for, and expects, in a holder of high office."

But there may be a disconnect between elite Republicans and the party faithful.

"I think Sarah Palin is still very popular among the conservative base," said Rick Stengel, managing editor of Time magazine. "There are other conservatives, the conservative intelligentsia, who have peeled off and think maybe it was a mistake."

More so than McCain, she has built a fervent following that may show up on Election Day for the Republican ticket.

"Don't underestimate the Palin voter," said Alex Castellanos, a GOP strategist and CNN contributor. "They're still out there, they're still intense, a lot of those voters."

And her solid performance on "Saturday Night Live" suggests that regardless of what happens on Election Day, Palin could be a winner. Video Watch Palin, Tina Fey 'hug it out' »

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If McCain pulls out a come-from-behind victory, she will get plenty of credit.

But if McCain fails and Republicans lose more ground in Congress, there will be a lot of soul-searching. Palin could emerge as the woman who almost saved John McCain and become his heir apparent in 2012 -- and represent the future of the GOP.

All About Sarah PalinU.S. Presidential Election

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