Away from party activists, Palin appears to face an uphill battle

Posted: Wednesday, September 03, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. - Inside the Xcel Energy Center, Republican delegates love Alaska's Gov. Sarah Palin.

At the nearby Mall of America, the rare shopper or walker who has heard of Palin - despite four days of relentless news coverage - mostly expressed concerns about what they knew.

Chief among those worries: Palin's youth and lack of experience.

"She certainly came out of nowhere," said Wossen Zewdie of St. Paul. "I think she went too far, too fast."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the presumptive Republican nominee for president, made a calculated gamble in choosing a Washington, D.C., outsider, hoping that her strengths as a reformer and staunch conservative would bring more benefits to the ticket than a more seasoned, insider candidate might.

Palin's inexperience relative to other vice president candidates over the years is troubling to Dick Merwin of Minneapolis, though.

"I think it would be tragic if the worst happened, and McCain couldn't finish his term and we had a total novice responsible for the country," Merwin said.

McCain is 72 and has had cancer more than once.

Many of those possible vice president picks didn't bring to the campaign one strength Palin brings: Alaska's governor is a committed opponent to abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.

Lauren Jenson, visiting the mall from Iowa, didn't recognize Palin's name at first, but when she did she said she liked what she knew.

That abortion opposition may cause Jenson and husband, Doug, to vote for McCain with confidence. They had been wavering.

"She's more conservative than John McCain, and that's a plus," she said.

The Jensons weren't concerned that Palin's unmarried, 17-year-old daughter Bristol was pregnant. "That happens in a lot of families," Lauren Jenson said.

Some others were bothered by it.

"It makes you wonder what John McCain was thinking," said a Republican woman who asked that her name not be used because she is attending the convention.

Zewdie, who said he wasn't affiliated with a political party, was troubled by what the pregnancy meant.

"That's kind of concerning," he said.

"I don't know if things would have been different if she'd been a full-time mom," he said, questioning whether Palin would be able to focus on being vice president and a mother to five children.

The Republican National Convention was intended to bring Palin's compelling personal story to the nation. Instead, a combination of nearly wall-to-wall Hurricane Gustav coverage and revelations about Palin's personal life have conspired to overwhelm that message.

At the Mall of America this week, only one in four Minnesotans recognized Palin's name without prompting.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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