Palin energizes campaign

Susie Baron is a Republican, a mother of two and a home-schooler. She voted for Mike Huckabee in the Ohio primary, but now – because of Sarah Palin – she thinks she is part of something much bigger.

“I'd call it a sleeping giant that has been awakened,” Baron, 56, said at a rally here Tuesday. She described its members as a silent majority of women in Middle America who “are raising our families, who work if we have to, but love our country and our families first.”

“And until now, we haven't had anyone to identify with,” Baron said, adding that traditional feminist groups such as the National Organization for Women do “not represent me.”

Since her rapid transition from obscure Alaska governor to GOP vice presidential nominee, Palin has reenergized the presidential race and also further polarized it, setting her instant fan base, which sees her as a “pit bull with lipstick,” against those who dismiss her as just another Republican who happens to be a woman and seems intent on rekindling a culture war.

The crowd that came to see her here Tuesday showed that Palin's support is rooted in conservative women such as Baron, with the addition of some independents and even Democrats.

On the campaign trail, Palin has read the same remarks at each stop from notes or a teleprompter. She has answered no questions, except from People magazine, although she will give her first sit-down interview, to ABC News, this week. But her mere presence has been enough to generate huge enthusiasm.

The campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama are rushing to assess what the Palin force will represent. If it is a small but energized group of Republican women, it could have only marginal impact; if it is more, it could tip the balance of the campaign.

“There's no doubt she has helped solidify and energize the right wing of his party,” senior Obama adviser Anita Dunn said of Palin and McCain, while acknowledging that Palin has drawn the curiosity of people “who are not movement conservatives.”

After just a week, Palin is as popular as either Obama or McCain. White women in particular express favorable views of the Alaska governor, according to a newly released Washington Post-ABC News poll. Positive ratings of her spike to 80 percent among white women with children at home and among white women who are evangelical Protestants.