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Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, recognize the importance of the female vote in November, and both are making efforts to shore up their support.

Despite their hefty weight this election, some Republicans are skeptical that Mr. McCain’s will name a woman if it is seen as having been motivated purely by poll numbers. They wonder whether voters would see such a vice-presidential decision as act of shallow opportunism, whether or not the woman chosen managed to satisfy the sometimes mutually exclusive interests of interest groups - economic, religious and national defense - that Mr. McCain needs to win.

These Republicans pointed out that the reason women apparently lean toward Mr. McCain has nothing to do with the sex of his running mate.

“Yes, the gap for Obama among women over 40 is real,” said Randy Brinson, a Montgomery, Ala., physician, evangelical leader and founder of the national Redeem the Vote movement. “Obama validates all the security concerns of women by his radical agenda, his inexperience, his redistribution-of-wealth ideas and the view that America is subservient in status in regard to Europe, which Obama embraces.”

Nevertheless, there is growing buzz around Mrs. Palin, the first female governor of Alaska and youngest ever at 44. In April, she had her fifth child, Trig, who has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. Her other colorfully named children are Bristol, Willow, Piper and Track, who at age 18 joined the Army last Sept. 11.

Once a beauty queen in her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, she has earned a reputation for toughness, eating moose burgers (she’s a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association and her Web site shows her holding the antlers of a downed moose), riding snowmobiles and fishing. A former point guard for her high school basketball team, she is a regular churchgoer, staunchly pro-life and, like Mr. McCain, thinks climate change poses a threat.

She is the focus of a Web site (palinforvp.blogspot.com) and elicits oohs and ahhs from leading evangelicals, who are cool to Mr. Romney.

“Palin is an easy sell, particularly because of the recent birth,” David Barton, named by Time magazine as one of America’s most influential evangelicals, told The Washington Times.

Another potential running mate for Mr. McCain is Mrs. Fiorina, which Forbes magazine dubbed the most powerful woman in business but who was forced out of HP in 2005 after a power struggle with the corporation’s board and amid rampant dissatisfaction among shareholders. At 53, she has no experience in political office, but that didn’t stop Mr. McCain from making her one of his top surrogates, naming her to the post of chairman of fundraising for get-out-the-vote efforts.

She has made a major misstep, suggesting that insurers are sexually biased because they cover sexual medication for men and not birth control pills (making for an awkward moment when Mr. McCain was asked if he believes the same thing).

But she stood her ground and was recently dispatched to woo supporters of Mrs. Clinton to vote for Mr. McCain. Democrats are worried that she may persuade disgruntled Clinton backers to support the Republican candidate, and some have quietly pushed stories highlighting her $42 million severance package when she left HP and her move to cut 18,000 jobs as she moved work overseas.

Mrs. Marsh said picking Mrs. Fiorina would spotlight her high salary as an executive and her defense of sending jobs overseas.

“That is why if McCain picked a woman, it would be potentially more advantageous to select an elected official like Palin who understands politics, campaigns, government and has a public record rather than having to defend the business record of Fiorina,” Mrs. Marsh said.

Other female candidates have fallen by the wayside: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has repeatedly said she does not want the vice-presidential job and is too closely tied to the Bush administration, from which Mr. McCain is trying to distance himself. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, mentioned often several months ago, would put two senators on the Republican ticket, which many pundits say spells certain defeat.