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WASHINGTON - Last year's Republican nominee for president predicted that Sarah Palin will remain a "formidable force" in the GOP, despite criticisms that the former vice presidential candidate lacked the substance and policy knowledge needed for national office.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" he is still very fond of the former Alaska governor, whom he chose as his running mate for the Republican ticket in 2008. He said that there is a strong field of Republicans considering the 2012 presidential race and that "Sarah is one of them."
McCain acknowledged that "there were clearly tensions" between some of his top campaign advisers and Palin's camp during the run-up to the election.
One of McCain's top advisers, Steve Schmidt, has openly criticized Palin recently, and said that choosing her as the presidential nominee for 2012 would be a catastrophe for the party. During the 2008 campaign, significant animosity and distrust brewed between Schmidt and Palin's advisers.
McCain said that such tensions are natural in a hard-fought campaign, and that although he does not always agree with Palin, her political popularity with many GOP voters is palpable.
"There are fundamental facts ... that cannot be denied," McCain said. "When we selected or asked Sarah Palin to be my running mate, it energized our party. We were ahead in the polls, until the stock market crashed. And she still is a formidable force in the Republican Party."
Some longtime Republicans privately expressed worry at the time about the choice of a little-known first-term governor. Even President George W. Bush was dismissive at first, according to a former Bush administration speechwriter. Matt Latimer wrote in "Speech-less" that the former president quipped, "What is she, the governor of Guam?"
McCain's advisers concluded in mid-summer 2008 that it would be impossible for him to win the election without a dramatic "game-changing" move. He was encouraged to choose Palin to attract female voters and to motivate a conservative base generally cool to McCain's moderate stands on social issues.