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Palin: A good choice for John McCain

Published: September 12, 2008
Section: Opinions

Ever since Senator McCain surprisingly tapped Governor Sarah Palin of the state of Alaska to be his running mate for the presidency, there has been a political firestorm to find out just who exactly she is, what does she bring to the ticket, and how does she alter the state of the presidential race that most of us were just beginning to get comfortable with. The answer to those questions depends on who you ask. Republicans are ecstatic that Senator McCain chose the best running mate in recent political history, while Democrats contest that she is by far the worst running mate in the history of running mates, even worse than Dan Quayle. Some even argue that Governor Palin will not make a difference in the election because people vote for the top of the ticket, even if Senator McCain is 72 years old. However, looking at recent polls and how the race has been playing out over the last week, it seems that Governor Palin might have just shaken up this race in Senator McCain’s favor. In this pick, Senator John McCain has solidified and energized his base, he has allowed himself to reach out to certain swing constituencies, and has successfully thrown Senator Obama off his message

When Governor Palin was introduced as Senator McCain’s running mate, the Republican base was ecstatic. Senator McCain had been having trouble during his campaign energizing his base with his moderate views and this left his ground organization considerably flimsy. However, Governor Palin’s arrival saw an immediate enthusiasm jump among both social conservatives for her staunch pro-life advocacy and fiscal conservatives for her strong energy credentials and positions. In the latest polls released this week by ABC, CBS, and NBC, Senator McCain’s supporter’s enthusiasm levels spiked with some polls showing the number of enthusiastic supporters of McCain tripling. Now, a majority of these voters would have unenthusiastically voted for McCain anyway, albeit in slightly reduced numbers, but it is not just voters that Senator McCain is looking for in his base, he needs volunteers. Senator Obama’s ground organization has been astounding during this election; it had to be to beat the Clinton political machine, so McCain needed greatly to strengthen his own base and Governor Palin has proved to be his answer. Just three days after his announcement that he would choose Palin, McCain received about ten million dollars in donations to his campaign, which were passed on to the national Republican party. The number of volunteers coming out to support Governor Palin, and I guess Senator McCain too, will especially help in swing states that were once Republican strongholds such as Virginia and North Carolina. This could prove to be a real blow to Obama who hoped to turn these states red and now has to go against the full force of the Evangelical conservative base. What’s worse for Obama is that he has not been raking in the amount of donations that had been expected and since he did not take public financing he is forced to spend an uncomforting amount of time in Democratic stronghold states raising money instead of campaigning in those swing states that are about to become much more difficult for him to win. While Palin greatly enhances the enthusiasm of the Republican base, the greatest benefit of Governor Palin’s addition to the ticket is that it allows Senator McCain to do what he does best, be a maverick.

Senator McCain has been criticized for the past few months for deviating from his maverick stances and leaning right to satisfy his base, but Governor Palin’s strengthening of the Republican base allows McCain to tout his maverick stances on the campaign trail, while not having to worry about a large backlash from his supporters like he used to. The willingness of the Republicans to allow for reaching toward the middle now was quite evident at the Republican National Convention last week when the convention delegates were willing to cheer on Joe Lieberman, who had been forced out of a chance for the VP pick when it became evident that those same delegates would stage a political coop, when he praised President Bill Clinton for his ability to cross over the party lines. Recent polls have also reinforced this with results that show McCain gaining support among independents, the recent Gallup poll showed a twelve point surge in support from independents in recent days. It is likely now that many undecided voters show up to see the McCain-Palin ticket because they are interested in the Palin phenomena that has arisen lately and while they probably do not agree with her staunch right-wing beliefs they do end up falling behind the much more moderate Senator McCain. Women also seem to be falling more behind the McCain-Palin ticket according to the newly released polls. The ABC/Washington Post poll shows that the deficit of white women supporters McCain had to Obama has completely reversed and that McCain now leads among that key demographic. The NBC/WSJ poll also shows that McCain has gained a large amount of ground with women voters. Many on the left felt confident that Palin would not cut into the female supporters of Obama, but it looks like they were overly optimistic as women flock to McCain and female running mate. Why this has happened is unclear as Palin’s views do not line up with that of many women, especially those who supported Hillary Clinton.

However, one explanation could be the media’s treatment of Palin over the past week. Much of the overtly sexist coverage on Palin’s life could have struck a cord with many women, especially women who felt the same happened to Senator Clinton during her campaign.

While it is unclear whether or not those numbers will stick, it still does seem to have many Democrats worried who still remember the wounds from the primary season that may not have fully healed as of yet. The same ABC/Washington post poll also shows that Palin may have strengthened McCain’s support in the Midwest where there are several key swing states. According to the poll McCain has gained from a nineteen point deficit to a seven point advantage in the Midwest. All of these demographic groups swinging toward McCain have Obama obviously worried as he has spent the past week completely forced off message by the Palin Phenomena.

Many political experts and pundits agree that for Obama to win this election he must turn it into a referendum on Bush and then link McCain to Bush. Over the summer, Obama had been doing that quite successfully as most Americans believed that President Bush was bringing the country in the wrong direction and that Senator McCain would only continue the “failed” policies of the Bush administration. When Palin was announced as the VP pick of McCain, the Obama campaign immediately pounced on her small town credentials and tried to discredit her experience. However, Obama himself quickly rebuffed the comments made by his campaign and intelligently tried to keep the focus on McCain and Bush. In Obama’s response ad to McCain’s VP choice, Palin’s name was not even mentioned. However, constant media attention and growing interest in Governor Palin have forced Obama to turn his attention off of Senator McCain and onto Governor Palin. This past week, Senator Obama spent a large amount of time trying to attack some of the claims made by Palin instead of going after McCain and Bush. Since Obama must continue to spend time fundraising off of the campaign trail, he must make every day that he has on the trail matter and he simply cannot do that if he is forced into a fight with Governor Palin and not Senator McCain. Senator Obama cannot even truly go after Governor Palin to hard for fear that he might get linked into the sexism allegations that have been thrown at the media and liberal bloggers. He in fact has already faced some pretty tough criticism for his remark that, “You can put lipstick on a pig… it’s still a pig,” a harsh reference to Governor Palin who had made a lipstick joke during her acceptance speech. On top of this, Senator Biden has seemed to largely disappear off of the media’s radar. Senator Obama’s attack dog cannot really do much damage if he is not getting strong media coverage, which forces Obama to get involved in the dirt himself. McCain in the meantime has been trying cleaning up his negative appearance as of late, as was clear in his acceptance speech, where he barely tried to attack Obama. Democrats have been attacking McCain’s apparent lack of a strong vetting process for Governor Palin, however it seems that the Democrats should be more worried about their lack of a strategy to neutralize McCain’s running mate. Palin has led the Obama campaign off of the Bush referendum message for the time being, which grants McCain even more of an ability to separate himself from the unpopular president. Palin seems to have been successful for the past few days; however, she does have some more obstacles to overcome before she can truly be an asset to the McCain campaign.

This election still has a long way to go and if the past few months are any indication, there are sure to be more twists and turns in the race before the finish line is reached. During this time Governor Palin will have to prove herself as a strong vice-presidential candidate in order to keep the McCain campaign afloat. This election might just show how much a VP candidate can affect a closely contested race. She has put a good foot forward with her strong first appearance at the rally in Ohio where she was first introduced and her nomination acceptance speech was phenomenal. However, she still has a few tests to prove her worth. This Friday will be her first major interview since her rise to the national stage. She will be asked many difficult questions regarding her past and some of the new controversies surrounding her. Palin’s performance during this interview could very well define her for the remainder of this race, so no pressure. Secondly, she must perform well in her debate with Senator Biden in order to alleviate concerns of her so called lack of experience. The low expectations for her will play to her advantage as he is a well known and strong debater while she is largely unknown, young, and perceived as inexperienced.

If she can hold her own against him it will come across as a victory for her and if she actually out performs him, then it could prove horribly disastrous for the Obama campaign. There will be many more unseen trials for Governor Palin during the remainder of the race and the outcome of this presidential election could surprisingly end up on her shoulders, though I’m sure we are all used to surprises by now.