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Did Sarah Palin Help or Hurt John McCain's Campaign?

This is a rush transcript from "America's Election HQ," November 4, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRIT HUME, HOST: It has emerged, particularly in certain elements of the mainstream media, as absolutely conventional wisdom in recent weeks that Sarah Palin ended up hurting John McCain in this race.

Bill, do — I know you were a fan of hers, remain one. Any data to support your proposition tonight?

BILL KRISTOL, WEEKLY STANDARD, FOX CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. Americans were asked, In your vote for president, was McCain's choice of Sarah Palin an important factor or not an important factor? A slight majority said it was not an important factor. In the exit poll, they were 57-41 for Obama. Forty percent said it was an important factor, 53-47 for Obama.

HUME: So in other words...

Video: Watch the panel debate

KRISTOL: The purest way to ask the question — I think it's a pretty good way to ask the question — McCain does slightly better — slightly better — among those who say — who say Palin was an important factor in the vote than those who say she was not.

In other words, it seems from this that Palin was a slight net plus to the ticket.

HUME: Because we were discussing this earlier and we were concerned about numbers which showed that voters were — disapproved of her, thought she might not be qualified to be president, and we were concerned that there was — we didn't seem to have a way, at that point, to measure the intensity of that. In other words, whether the people who thought that really cared very much about it at all. It appears now from what you're saying is those who thought it was appointed favored McCain — narrowly, and those who...

KRISTOL: Those who thought it was important favored Obama more narrowly than those who thought it was unimportant. McCain added a couple of points to his vote, 4 points to his vote, apparently, with those who thought Palin was important.

HUME: Important, right.

KRISTOL: So she slightly helped McCain, not enough. Still — they still — those who thought it was important still preferred Obama, but more narrowly than those who thought Palin was unimportant, so...

JUAN WILLIAMS, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO, FOX CONTRIBUTOR: But my sense...

KRISTOL: Doesn't prove much, but...

WILLIAMS: My sense of that, though, is that that's the base and that's what she did. I mean, if you were to give credit to Sarah Palin during the course of this contest, it's for stirring the passion of the base.

KRISTOL: Let me just say this, in the exit poll, Obama's beating McCain by 10. Among those who say Palin was an important factor, Obama's beating McCain by 6.

WILLIAMS: Right.

KRISTOL: So it can't be that Palin's only appealing to the base if those who say Palin's an important factor, McCain does better with them than among the pure McCain vote.

WILLIAMS: Well, look, if you ask them, Is Sarah Palin qualified to become president, should it become necessary, 60 percent say she's not.

HUME: I know that, Juan.

KRISTOL: She wasn't running for president.

WILLIAMS: But I'm saying that's — and you talk about an indication of experience...

KRISTOL: Well, fine. I'm not debating whether she was the perfect pick, or whether she should be president of the United States. I'm just saying the literal question that's been debated, does Palin hurt McCain or help McCain, among voters who say Palin mattered, it was a slight advantage to McCain.

HUME: I've always had this view of vice presidential votes, and I remember this vividly because I asked — started the line of questioning that led to such an embarrassment for Dan Quayle 20 years ago — and I — you know, we always wondered about how much of — I mean, he clearly had a rough campaign season that year and was judged by many to be callow and not very well prepared. I thought that judgment was unfair to him, but there it was.

And in the end, it was clear that it didn't matter, that people thought of him, yes, well, maybe he's not really ready to be president, but we're voting for him for vice president, and we don't — and we don't think that — you know, people do not cast votes for president very often because of the vice presidential selection. I mean, there's not much history of that. So that being the case, then the question arises, is whether those that didn't approve of Sarah Palin were going to — were — how many of them were ever going to vote for McCain anyway? Some, perhaps, but I always wonder whether — whether it was very many. I kind of thought not, but who knows?

WILLIAMS: But you see, the thing is, I think Sarah Palin was selected to appeal to independent voters and specifically to women voters. And that ability, according to all the polls, diminished over time.

HUME: Right.

WILLIAMS: And so as it turned out, for example, if you look at Pennsylvania or Ohio, these key states that we have seen tonight go to Barack Obama, the vote there did not swing on the basis of Sarah Palin. And what is true, and I think this is what Bill is picking up, is that for people who said, you know, it's really important, which I believe is the base of the Republican Party, that was more excited about her than they were John McCain, she was a plus.

HUME: Well, I think — I always thought, after it happened, that the indispensable thing that John McCain needed to have to have any chance to win this election was he needed to mount a get-out-the-vote drive that would at least match what George W. Bush did four years ago, which was so intensely hated by Christian evangelicals, particularly in the all- important state of Ohio. McCain looked like he had no chance of doing that, I mean, none whatever. I mean, he was the winner...

WILLIAMS: Before Palin.

HUME: Before Palin. Post-Palin...

FRED BARNES, WEEKLY STANDARD, FOX CONTRIBUTOR: Well, there are two remarkable things that Sarah Palin did. You know, she was the biggest boon to investigative reporting by the mainstream media since Watergate!

(LAUGHTER)

BARNES: We're still doing investigative stories about her as governor and about — almost up until Election Day, doing these stories. The Associated Press did one on Sarah Palin and the natural gas pipeline that The Anchorage Daily News had to come out and knock down as being inaccurate, and stories about — anyway, there were stories — investigative reporting of the type that was never done about Joe Biden, that was never done about Barack Obama, either. So there's that.

Secondly, if you go out with her and saw her crowds, she attracted a different type of crowd. It was not your basic Republican crowd. It wasn't the country club Republicans, wasn't even the small business Republicans. It was a lower middle class, working-class crowd, an awful lot of women who may not have been — she made — she clearly didn't do what no vice president has ever done, which is, you know, improved the ticket by 5, 6, 7 or 8 points. She didn't do that. But the crowds she got were not traditional Republican crowds and these are kind of people that if Republicans are going to recover, those are the ones they're going to have to get, and a lot more of them.

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