US Politics Analysis
ST. LOUIS - With the US financial crisis dominating voter concerns just two weeks before election day, Republican John McCain is facing renewed criticism for his choice of Sarah Palin as a vice presidential running mate.
Conservative commentators, late-night comedians and even retired Gen. Colin Powell have questioned the Arizona senator's judgment for putting the little-known Alaska governor on the White House ticket.
Palin, a mother of five whose staunch opposition to abortion rights has energized her party's base, is still drawing large crowds and bringing conservative voters who were wary of McCain back to the Republican fold.
But crucial independents in must-win battleground states on Nov. 4 are having second thoughts, analysts say, after Palin's performance on the national stage failed to illustrate her readiness to take over the country's top job.
Powell, a Republican former secretary of state under President George W. Bush, cited McCain's shaky response to the financial crisis and his choice of Palin as one reason he crossed party lines to endorse Democrat Barack Obama.
"She's a very distinguished woman, and she's to be admired, but at the same time, now that we have had a chance to watch her for some seven weeks, I don't believe she's ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president," Powell said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"That raised some question in my mind as to the judgment that Senator McCain made," he said.
Influential Republican commentators like Peggy Noonan, a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, are also unimpressed.
"There is little sign that she has the tools, the equipment, the knowledge or the philosophical grounding one hopes for, and expects, in a holder of high office," Noonan wrote of Palin in the Wall Street Journal last week.
"This is not a leader, this is a follower."
McCain vigorously rejects that charge, and supporters at his rallies give enthusiastic support to the Alaska governor, brushing off criticism from the political left and the right.
"I think she's qualified just by the simple fact ... (of) how she's handled being the governor of Alaska (and) seeing her as a mother and handling a family," said Nina Robinson, 46, of Toledo, Ohio.
"She's actually done something, you know, she's had to run a big budget, she's had to deal with that kind of stuff," said Robinson's husband, Darryl, 46, a carpenter.
Palin's supporters cite her grit and concern for her family as qualities that go beyond political experience and say her critics are out of touch with average Americans. …