SARAH Palin hinted yesterday at a run at the presidency in four years' time, as Barack Obama used an unprecedented prime-time television infomercial costing millions to make his closing arguments ahead of next week's presidential election.
In an interview with US network ABC set to cause more consternation within the McCain campaign - which already thinks of her as a rogue diva - Ms Palin said losing the election would not send her packing back to Alaska. "Absolutely not," the northern-most state's Governor said in an interview to be aired today. "I think that, if I were to give up and wave a white flag of surrender against some of the political shots that we've taken, that, that would bring this whole ... I'm not doing this for nought."
Although Ms Palin had earlier qualified the remark by saying she believed senator John McCain would win, her sentiments were seen by insiders as a betrayal from a woman whose only priority, they say, is her own political ambition.
Palin adviser Tucker Eskew later told reporters that the Republican running mate had not intended to give the impression she held presidential aspirations and he condemned the ABC's interpretation of her remarks as "terrifically misleading".
However, The New York Times reported yesterday that Ms Palin's future political prospects were the subject of intensive conversations among conservative leaders, including the group that will meet next Wednesday in rural Virginia to weigh social, foreign policy and economic issues, as well as thepolitical landscape and the nextpresidential election.
US politics website Politico reported that if Senator McCain won, the discussion would focus on how the party could work with his administration, given it is no secret the Arizona senator isn't exactly a conservative darling.
In a McCain White House, Ms Palin would be seen as the conservatives' conduit to power with one source telling Politico; "She would be the conservative in the White House."
But if Senator McCain loses, next week's talks will probably focus on who to groom as the next generation of conservative leaders and Ms Palin's name will in all likelihood be at or near thetop. Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Senator Obama made his most audacious pitch yet to voters in a 30-minute infomercial - the first of its kind since the quixotic Ross Perot paid the major television networks for air time in 1992.
The ad, shown simultaneously on major networks CBS, NBC and Fox right before a big World Series baseball game, cost about million ($7.3 million) and appeared carefully crafted to reassure, rather than win over, voters.
While saying he would "not be a perfect president", Senator Obama pledged to be honest and forthright and reiterated at every chance his longstanding themes of change and hope for a better future that disenchanted Americans appear to have embraced.
Later, he appeared on stage arm-in-arm with former president Bill Clinton at a midnight rally in Kissimmee, Florida - the first time the two men have shared a stage since Hillary Clinton conceded defeat in the Democratic primary 115 days ago.
The ex-president delivered a powerful endorsement of Senator Obama in front of 35,000 supporters.
"The presidential campaign is the greatest job interview in the world. And on Tuesday, you get to make the hire," said Mr Clinton.
"This is not a close question. If you make the decision based on who can best get us out of the ditch ... I think it's clear the next president should be, and with your help will be, Senator Barack Obama."
Earlier, the Republican ticket, watching its deficit in the polls grow larger, hammered Senator Obama hard yesterday in the hope of clinching undecided voters.
Ms Palin, campaigning with Joe "The (unlicensed) Plumber" Wurzhelbacher in Ohio yesterday, tried to link Senator Obama to the Palestine Liberation Organisation while his economic policies were again likened to that most anti-American of political economies, socialism.
Senator McCain went one step further, telling rallies that his rival's proposed policies would "undermine our national security". Attempting to play down talk of a schism between himself and his running mate, Senator McCain yesterday praised Ms Palin's political abilities, but also conceded that he "didn't think she'd be so controversial".
Senator McCain said he would have total faith in Ms Palin to lead the US if something happened to him, adding that she was "an incredibly quick study".
He also rejected suggestions that race would cast a pall over next week's election.
Ms Palin stood alongside Mr Wurzhelbacher - who the day before said that a vote for Senator Obama "is a vote for the death of Israel" - yesterday and claimed Senator Obama's old friend and colleague from Chicago, Rashid Khalidi, was a spokesman for the PLO, a terrorist organisation in the eyes of the US and Israel.
Khalidi, now a professor of Middle Eastern studies at New York's Columbia University, has denied the accusation.