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When Jessica Stollings learned on Facebook that John McCain had named Sarah Palin as his running mate, the 26-year-old from Bristol, Tenn., took the day off and picked up some campaign yard signs. Just like that, she went from "just a voter" to a McCain evangelist.\n\n"He's a lot more visionary than I thought," said Stollings, a blooming evangelical activist for her generation who believes God has raised up Palin "for such a time as this."
The mood was darker on blogs and social networking sites that connect more center-left young evangelicals. There, McCain's choice has been greeted as a cynical political ploy, a depressing return to the culture wars and damaging to efforts to broaden the evangelical dialogue.
Polls have yet to measure the Palin Effect on younger evangelical voters, whose shifting political allegiances put the demographic in play for both major-party presidential campaigns.\n\nBut a portrait emerges through interviews with more than a dozen pastors, authors and others who either belong to that generation or track it: Conservatives are energized much like their elders, progressives are unimpressed and many undecideds are gravitating toward McCain-Palin.
"I think the jury is still out on young evangelicals," said Cameron Strang, editor of Relevant magazine, an influential publication for this group. "Both parties have the opportunity to address issues of deep concern for this voting bloc.""It's a great story, but I don't know what's changed," he said. "She's pro-life, but we already knew the ticket was pro-life. She really doesn't broaden the agenda."\n\n
A Pew survey last fall showed under-30 white evangelicals are increasingly up for grabs politically: 40 percent identified as Republican, down 15 percent from 2005. Most who abandoned the GOP were becoming independents, not Democrats.\n\nOn the whole, evangelicals under 30 say Palin enthuses them because she's a fresh face with a compelling family story, a reputation as a reformer and a champion of conservative moral values.\n\n
"Obama has had a lot of appeal for being new, fresh, cool and bringing change," said Alex Harris, an evangelical college freshman who co-founded the online activists' group Huck's Army to support Mike Huckabee. "Palin is fresh and new, but she is also rock solid on issues like abortion. A lot of young evangelicals would have a hard time supporting Obama" for his abortion rights stance.Regardless of their political leanings, young evangelicals repeatedly mention the history Palin would write if elected the first female vice president. Obama's bid to become the country's first black president has struck a similar idealistic chord.\n\n"For a lot of young evangelical women, it's exciting," said Colorado-based author Margaret Feinberg, an up-and-coming evangelical voice. "It speaks to young evangelical women who face a glass ceiling in our workplaces, but also the stained-glass ceiling of the church."
"Although I think Palin will energize the conservative base, I don't think the Palin pick does anything for progressive evangelicals," said Jones, who caucused for Obama. "If anything, it tarnishes McCain's once stellar reputation as an independent-minded politician."
Overall, the Palin pick is swaying many undecided young evangelicals who already were warming to McCain after his confident, straightforward answers at a recent candidate forum at Saddleback church in California, said Gabe Lyons. Lyons is a Georgia-based author and founder of the Fermi Project, a collective of church leaders, entrepreneurs and artists.\n\nYoung evangelicals "aren't identifying as much with Palin's evangelicalism as with her emblematic role as everyday American _ one of us, a normal, down to earth mom, parent, school volunteer," Lyons said. "This isn't a faith response, it's a human response."