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Sarah Palin seen as beacon of hope as defeat at poll looms

A sense of impending doom hangs over Senator John McCain's rallies these days but American conservatives take some comfort in the belief that even in likely defeat they have found a new heroine: Sarah Palin.

 
Sarah Palin
Many voters believe Sarah Palin 'tells it like it is'. Photo: GETTY

With a new CBS poll putting Mr McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, 14 points behind Senator Barack Obama, his Democratic rival, even the hard-core conservative faithful are beginning to fear that the election may be over and the bad, scary guy has won.

"I'm not stupid," said Ruth Hartmann, 78, at a Palin rally in Dover, deep in the "Granite State" that made Mr McCain in 2000, when he trounced George W Bush in the primary, and saved him in January, when he came back from the political dead to win again. "It ain't over till it's over, I guess, but it sure looks like Obama is the next president – not my president, but the president.

"McCain needs to get mad and ask questions. I'm fearful of Obama. We just don't know anything about him. We keep hearing about these people he's hanging around with. A bunch of really evil-minded people are using him to get into power and control America.

"Everybody's so angry at the moment I'm kind of afraid somebody's going to get hurt before this thing's done."

Bonnie Turkington, 60, said: "I'm very worried that McCain will lose. Obama's way too radical for me and his wife doesn't like America. The people he associates with scare me – frankly, I'd be afraid for his life if he gets elected."

When the news was announced that Governor Palin had arrived at Dover High School, however, the faces of these women suddenly lit up. "She tells it how it is," said Mrs Hartmann. "There's no foolishness. She's honest, hard working and she's not one of the empty suits in Washington. She's our saviour."

Mrs Searle chipped in: "She's not bashful about taking on the liberals. It really burns me up what the Democrats and the press are saying about her." When Mrs Palin appeared, the crowd of several hundred gathered in the gym went wild. There were chants of "USA, USA, USA" and "Sarah, Sarah, Sarah".

Dover was the kind of small-town America she loved, said the Alaska governor, hailing the state's motto of "Live Free or Die".

"You're a lot like the people of Alaska. We love good moose hunting. We both so enjoy our great lands – the clean water and the fresh air and the wildlife and fishing. We love being outdoors. You just get it!"

As she talked about energy independence, a chant of "drill, baby, drill" went up. "You bet!" said Mrs Palin, 44, a mother of five.

The McCain campaign hopes that the rugged terrain of New Hampshire and parts of neighbouring Maine – where a total of five potentially crucial electoral college votes are at stake – will be Palin Country on Nov 4. "For the first time here, conservative activists are excited about the McCain ticket," said Paul Young, a Republican consultant who has worked for Mr McCain. "There are people in New Hampshire who live throughout the winter by eating what they kill. That's reality. Guns and sporting issues are huge and she knows how to skin a moose."

But for every swooning Palin admirer there is an indignant detractor. In nearby Rochester, Carole Appel, 71, said: "Palin doesn't know anything. I'm an ordinary person but I don't think I should be president of the United States. The notion that the person who represents ordinary people has to know nothing more than them makes no sense."

Polls indicate that Mrs Palin alienates independent voters in many key states and has harmed rather than helped Mr McCain's overall chances of winning the White House.

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