As Republican vice presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin prepares to make the most important political speech of her life Wednesday night -- less than a week after she first leapt onto the national stage -- the jury is still out on how her addition to the GOP ticket will influence the outcome of the election.
While Democrats say the pick smacks of tokenism and warn that Palin will never draw the Hillary votes she was meant to, Republicans attending the GOP convention this week are thrilled across the board.
One 70-something San Francisco moderate called the move "gutsy!" while a Gen-X Log Cabin Republican gushed, "The party is finally united!"
Beverly Kaufman, a Republican county clerk in Harris County, Texas, said she "hoped all along it was going to be a woman" but had prepared to be let down because none of the names being floated excited her.
"My anticipated disappointment was not borne out when he came up with Governor Palin," she said. "I just thought she was the perfect choice -- the ideal choice -- and I think a lot of American women voters are going to agree."
Openly gay Republican Richard Grenell said he had never received so many agitated e-mails and texts from his female friends, many of whom were diehard Clinton supporters. "That only confirms to me that we struck a really good nerve," said Grenell, a Bush Administration appointee to the United Nations who was not speaking in his official capacity. "There's so few times when a political move can both fire up the base and reach across to appeal to independents. The Palin selection has done both."
Excite the base, it did, as demonstrated by the much-reported $7 million bump in contributions McCain received in the first 24 hours after making the announcement. But how Palin will play to independents remains a mystery. The National Journal reported that a GOP-run focus group of mostly white, middle-aged swing voters in the Twin Cities expressed great concern about the Alaska governor's inexperience. Six of the 25-member group who were leaning toward McCain prior to the Palin pick, backed off; three said they were more likely to vote for him; and a majority of the group raised their hands when asked to indicate that they felt less likely to vote for the McCain-Palin ticket as compared to the Obama-Biden option.
After one man in the group noted that McCain is 72 years old, he reportedly asked, "If something were to happen to him, would I want this woman in the White House?" According to the National Journal, another man answered, "She's not ready for the call at 3 a.m." -- an apparent reference to ads run by Hillary Clinton in the primaries questioning Barack Obama's readiness to handle a crisis in the Oval Office.
What's striking is the partisan confidence on both sides of the fence that McCain's unconventional choice is either brilliant or the final nail in the coffin of his campaign. A Rasmussen Report poll taken Monday found that 69% of GOP voters believe the choice was a good one, while 63% of Democrats think the opposite. Meanwhile, the voters who will decide this election have yet to make up their minds -- a reality not lost on some.
Appearing on Real Time with Bill Maher, Michel Martin of National Public Radio said of Palin, "Democrats underestimate her at their own peril."
Conservative columnist David Frum, speaking at a convention panel, called McCain's choice "profoundly emotional" and said he could not stifle his "unease" that the Arizona senator had failed to do his homework on Palin.
Frum offered this colorful analogy on what he seemingly deems a gamble: "If you take the month's mortgage money to the casino and bet it on black, and you win, you're a very lucky guy. But it's still not a good decision."