Palin's record doubted in South In GOP strongholds, some conservatives question her experience. http://detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081003/POLITICS01/810030375 Ben Evans / Associated Press HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- John Thomas has lots of reasons to support John McCain for president. Like McCain, Thomas is a former Navy officer. They're about the same age, and Thomas considers himself a political independent with a conservative bent. But Thomas, a one-time supporter of President Bush, said McCain running mate Sarah Palin's recent interviews sealed his decision to vote for Democrat Barack Obama. "She's not prepared at all," Thomas, 70, said as he loaded groceries into his car outside a Sam's Club warehouse store on the outskirts of Huntsville. He said listening to Palin argue that Alaska's proximity to Russia was a foreign policy credential "frightened me to death." "I went out on the golf course Thursday and that was what everyone was talking about," Thomas said. "They're very frightened about McCain and his age ... and to have Palin a heartbeat away." Even in the staunchly Republican South, Palin was facing deep skepticism about her qualifications heading into Thursday night's debate with her Democratic counterpart, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware. The wave of enthusiasm here that greeted the Alaska governor's conservative positions on social and religious issues remains in many quarters, but it has been tempered by uncertainty about her readiness, particularly among moderates. "I don't really know what her experience is," said Johnathan Hurwitz, a 40-year-old Army officer based at the Redstone Arsenal outside Huntsville, noting that Palin has largely been sheltered from questioning by reporters or voters. The moderate Republican said Palin's selection was more about strategy than substance. Hurwitz and Thomas notwithstanding, there's little chance that McCain and Palin will lose the Deep South. A recent poll in Alabama, for example, showed McCain with a big lead over Obama, and the numbers are not much different in states like Mississippi and Georgia. In 2004, Bush won Alabama 62-37 percent and Georgia 58-41. Many Republicans say Palin remains a strong asset in the region, where McCain trailed more conservative candidates Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee in the primaries. Southerners, they say, identify with Palin's small-town roots and down-to-earth style. "I think she brings new life to the party. She's not an insider from Washington," said Republican Amy Boyle, a stay-at-home mom from Huntsville who warmed up to McCain after he named Palin. The staying power of that enthusiasm for Palin, however, could hinge on the public's reaction to her performance in the debate with Biden.