Report Card: Was Picking Palin a Mistake?

Analysts discuss whether Palin has hurt John McCain's chances.

Oct. 30, 2008— -- With the presidential election just days away, and with the latest polls still favoring the Barack Obama-Joe Biden ticket, Republican VP pick Gov. Sarah Palin is still full steam ahead, gathering huge crowds from event to event to conduct the task that always falls into the lap of the vice presidential candidate -- attack.

Today, Palin took aim at Obama's primetime infomercial, which aired last night across six television networks and garnered 33.5 million viewers.

"He's [Obama's] hoping your mind won't wander to real challenges of national security, challenges he is incapable of meeting," she said.

Since early September, when Palin was picked by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as his running mate, she's become wildly popular with the Republican base, drawing huge crowds that often out-do McCain's. But lately, some are beginning to wonder if Palin has become a drag on the ticket.

"If John McCain wins on Tuesday, the short answer is no," ABC News' chief Washington correspondent, George Stephanopoulos, told "Nightline's" Cynthia McFadden. "If he loses, that's the question I'd most like an honest answer to.

"We know why she was picked," Stephanopoulos continued. "The campaign was looking for someone to solidify the Republican base, excite the Republican base and reach out to some voters in the middle, women and men who might be attracted to a reform candidate. She's the first female GOP candidate for vice president with working-class roots."

Stephanopoulos said the Palin selection may not have worked to attract some of the campaign's key targets.

"It didn't seem to work there, even though Sarah Palin is still popular with Republicans," he said. "When you look at the bottom line, Joe Biden helped Barack Obama with all voters. He made people feel better about Barack Obama. Sarah Palin has hurt John McCain with the broader electorate. It's shown in poll after poll after poll."

Mixed Signals Among Mavericks?

Palin rarely goes off script on the stump, and relies on a teleprompter at nearly every event. A top McCain aide told ABC News that Palin is given talking points every day.

On Tuesday, the attack of the day was based on a 2001 radio interview on Chicago Public Radio conducted with then-State Sen. Obama, in which he appeared to say "redistributive change" never occurred during the civil rights movement.

This line gave ammo to the heavily pushed McCain-Palin line of attack -- that Obama wants to "spread the wealth" among American taxpayers.

While McCain claimed Obama was running for "redistributor-in-chief," Palin went further than her running mate, accusing Obama of wanting to re-write the Constitution.

"Sometimes in politics, it's those candid little moments that give us the whole picture," Palin declared at a rally at Penn State University. "But our opponent's ideological commitment to spread your wealth around has been tried in other societies, and the only thing it ever spreads is scarcity and poverty and bureaucracy."

Internal Chatter 'Unusual' at This Stage

But are Palin's most recent words straying more and more from campaign talking points? In recent days, a chorus of anonymous McCain aides and Republican outsiders has accused Palin of reportedly "going rogue," and instead, looking out for her own political future.

"I don't think there's any question that she has ambition," said Matthew Dowd, a prominent political consultant and chief strategist for George W. Bush's re-election campaign. "And if you look at the vice presidential candidates for the last 50 years, once somebody becomes the nominee for V.P., they automatically start having future ambitions and they automatically start looking past Election Day."

However, over the past few days, criticism of Palin within the campaign has gotten uglier. One McCain advisor reportedly labeled Palin a "diva" and another "top McCain advisor" reportedly called her a "wack job."

"It is unusual to have this much talk from campaign insiders beginning to point the fingers and beginning to say someone else is to blame," said Dowd. "I mean it's almost as if they are organizing a circular firing squad before Election Day. Usually they don't start ... those circular firing squads until after Election Day."

Washington Post columnist George Will said the internal disputation is not unfamiliar turf for the McCain camp.

"Long before Sarah Palin was a glint in John McCain's eye, there was famous factional fighting within his campaign, all the way back to the summer of 2007 when his campaign imploded in disarray," he said. "So, fighting among these people is not news."

McCain aides have pointed to specific instances of Palin speaking off the cuff, sometimes interfering with her boss. On the day after McCain decided to pull resources out of Michigan, Palin told reporters, "I would sure love to get to run to Michigan and make sure that Michigan knows that we haven't given up there."

And two weeks later, she seemed to criticize McCain's use of robo-calls.

"If I could wave a magic wand," she said, "I would be sitting at a kitchen table with more and more Americans, talking to them about our plan to get the economy back on track and winning the war and not having to rely on the old conventional ways of campaigning that includes those robo-calls."

Will said the staff should've expected mistakes from a candidate with Palin's level of experience.

"If they don't want someone to make rookie mistakes, perhaps they shouldn't pick a rookie in national politics. This is part of the bargain," he told ABC News' Kate Snow. "I think she's performing the service she was initially intended to perform, [which] is energizing the base and drawing crowds. I think that, in the process of doing that, she predictably is failing to do the other job, which is appealing to people who are not in the base."

Palin in 2012?

Will also believes there are conservatives pushing the idea of Palin in 2012, but dismisses the idea that Palin is actively contemplating a future bid.

"Look, it's always possible to explain mistakes in terms of guile," said Will. "That's a sign of paranoia. The fact is mistakes often get made, particularly in the fatigue intention of a campaign, by people who are talking 18 hours a day. They're going to say some things they shouldn't say. But to ascribe Machiavellian subtlety to this woman, particularly looking four years out is, I think, to say no more, a stretch."

In an interview with ABC's Elizabeth Vargas, Palin said she was focused on winning next week.

"I'm just thinking that it's going to go our way on Tuesday, Nov. 4," she said. "I truly believe that the wisdom of the people will be revealed on that day, as they enter that voting booth. They will understand the stark contrast between the two tickets."