Whether or not she becomes Vice President next year, the prospect of a Palin candidacy in 2012 has to be taken seriously. If McCain wins this election, he would be 76 by the end of his first term, possibly too old to run again. Granted, Reagan was 78 when he left office, but his age proved a political problem, and the actuarial tables for John McCain are worse given his brutal incarceration in North Vietnam and history of skin cancer. If, on the other hand, McCain loses, then there is a chance that he will drag Palin's political career down with him. But she is far more popular with the conservative base than he is, and is already positioning herself to escape blame should the campaign fail by distancing herself from some of McCain's tactics. (Her messages on this front have been somewhat mixed, however. First, she implicitly criticised McCain for not launching more personal attacks on Obama. Then she criticised the campaign's use of robocalls. The day after, she released a robocall of her own.)
Assuming that John McCain does not seek the Republican nomination in four years time and Sarah Palin does, how would she fare? She certainly has ample and pasionate support in the conservative base that votes in the party primaries. However, her star is fading significantly outside that base, with her unfavourability numbers skyrocketing. This souring of attitudes towards her may well fail to seep into the primary electorate, leading them to choose a candidate who may be unelectable. But, as the Democrats' choice of John Kerry four years ago demonstrated, primary voters can be moved by (perceived) electability as well as ideological purity. And there is growing criticism of Palin among elite voices on the right, amplified significantly by Colin Powell's quietly devestating critique of her in his endorsement of Obama. However much these voices may find themselves isolated at the moment, they cannot fail to have some impact.
Update: See this, from the Washington Post's report on the poll they've just carried out with ABC: "McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, has become a drag on the GOP ticket: 52 percent of voters said McCain's selection of her makes them doubt the types of decisions he would make as president, a reversal from a Post-ABC poll following the nominating conventions."
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