The more voters learn about Sarah Palin, the more wary they become. Once the focus of post-convention Republican euphoria, the Alaska Governor is now viewed as a serious liability to the McCain campaign.
As it stands, Palin's polling numbers are daunting: with the unfolding economic crisis, her favorable to unfavorable ratings have switched from a positive 40-30, according to a September 12-16 New York Times survey, to a negative 32-41 in an October 10-13 survey.
Palin is, additionally, costing McCain newspaper endorsements. Editor and Publisher calculated that as of Oct 18, Barack Obama led McCain 58-16 in the competition for the backing of newspapers. Many of the endorsements cited Palin as a factor in their rejection of McCain. The Salt Lake Tribune, which supported George W. Bush in 2004, commented that "out of nowhere, and without proper vetting, the impetuous McCain picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. She quickly proved grievously under-equipped to step into the presidency should McCain, at 72 and with a history of health problems, die in office. More than any single factor, McCain's bad judgment in choosing the inarticulate, insular and ethically challenged Palin disqualifies him for the presidency." The Kansas City Star, in turn, described Palin as "unqualified."
Brookings Senior Fellow Thomas Mann told the Huffington Post that initially, Palin both built conservative enthusiasm for McCain and drew widespread interest among voters who had not been closely following the race. But those benefits soon evanesced:
"Within weeks, she became a liability, primarily as a highly visible indicator of McCain's impulsiveness and recklessness in picking someone who is patently unqualified to serve as president and commander-in-chief. McCain's only chance of making this election competitive was to contrast his readiness to serve with Obama's inexperience and naiveté. The Palin choice was the first clear sign (others followed) that McCain could not win that comparison."
Norman Ornstein, of the American Enterprise Institute, agrees about the immediate gains, noting that the "short term boost dissipated awfully quickly. Palin's clear lack of capability to serve as VP, much less as president, her lack of knowledge of even basics about most areas of policy, her ethical problems in Alaska over Troopergate, and the campaign decision to cloister her from serious scrutiny, all caused a drop in her own approval, but also reflected on McCain's decision-making style." Palin continues to "generate enthusiasm from hard-core Republicans who would not be as charged-up if the running mate were, say, a [Mitt] Romney or [Tim] Pawlenty," Ornstein says, "but the downside is definitely greater than the gain."
Palin's analysis of the current economic crisis has not won over most voters seeking a serious appraisal of the situation accompanied by well-thought out proposals. In a highly sympathetic interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, the verbatim exchange on the economy went as follows:
PALIN: "Certainly it is a mess though, the economy is a mess. And there have been abuses on Wall Street and that adversely affects Main Street.
And it's that commitment that John McCain is articulating today, getting in there, reforming the way that Wall Street has been allowed to work, stopping the abuses and that violation of the public trust that too many CEOs and top management of some of these companies, that abuse there has got to stop.
It is, somebody was saying this morning, a toxic waste there on Wall Street, affecting Main Street. And we've got to cure this."
HANNITY: "Through reform?"
PALIN: "Through reform, absolutely. Look at the oversight that has been lax, I believe, here it's a 1930s type of regulatory regime overseeing some of these corporations. And we've got to get a more coordinated and a much more stringent oversight regime. Not that government is going to be solely looked to for the answers in all of the problems in Wall Street, but government can play a very, very appropriate role in the oversight as people are trusting these companies with their life savings, with their investments, with their insurance policies and construction bonds and everything else. When we see the collapse that we're seeing today, you know that something is broke and John McCain has a great plan to get in there and fix it."
HANNITY: "Is Senator Obama then using what happened on Wall Street this week? Is he using it for political gain? Is there a danger of a presidential candidate is saying to the world that America's situation of economic crisis is the worst that we've seen in decades -- which was words that he was using yesterday -- is there a danger in terms of the world hearing that?"
PALIN: "Well, there is a danger in allowing some obsessive partisanship to get into the issue that we're talking about today. And that's something that John McCain too, his track record, proving that he can work both sides of the aisle, he can surpass the partisanship that must surpassed to deal with an issue like this. It is that profound and that important an issue that we work together on this and not just let one party try to kind of grab it all or capture it all and pretend like they have all the answers. It's going to take everybody working together on this."
Vice presidential picks have been considered by political scientists as irrelevant to the outcome. This year, however, there is a contribution Palin may make: If McCain loses Florida by a close margin, Palin will likely deserve responsibility because of the animosity she has generated among a key constituency the GOP was depending on to abandon its traditional support for Democrats: older Jewish voters.
In Florida, where McCain had led - sometimes by relatively strong margins - Obama took the lead during the past month. Real Clear Politics gives Obama a 3.2 percentage point advantage in the state, which has become a key battleground.
In 2004, George W. Bush beat John Kerry 52-47 in Florida, while losing the Jewish vote, which makes up five percent of the electorate, 4-1.
On May 22, 2008, well before the Palin pick, the New York Times reported widespread concerns about the prospective Democratic nominee in a story headlined "As Obama Heads to Florida, Many of Its Jews Have Doubts."
The Palin pick was from the start viewed even more negatively by Jewish voters. By a margin of 57-37, Jewish voters nationwide said they disapproved McCain's decision according to a September 8- 21 survey by the American Jewish Committee.
Among Florida Jewish voters, according to University of Florida political scientist Ken Wald, "there's a great deal of resistance to her for a couple of reasons. First, on the issues, she's simply wrong. Jews as a group are pro-choice, anti-gun, and generally associated with liberal values on social and economic issues. Even many orthodox Jews, who are somewhat more traditionalist, are hardly raging social conservatives. The fact that her church hosted a Jews for Jesus speaker--at a service she attended and applauded--adds insult to injury. (Many in the Jewish community consider Jews for Jesus as a group that seeks the continuation of the Holocaust by peaceful means.)"
In addition, Wald told the Huffington Post, "among middle-class Jewish career women in particular, there's a resentment bordering on rage that somebody so obviously unqualified was appointed on the assumption that she would appeal to women. As women of accomplishment, they deeply resent the pandering and take it quite personally."
In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times and Bay News McCain acknowledged that he would be having a much easier time in Florida had he picked the state's Governor, Charlie Crist, instead of Palin. "Charlie, because he's so popular, he probably would have made a significant difference,'' McCain said, "Look, this is a tough decision that we made with Sarah Palin. But I also saw Sarah Palin come down here and energize crowds in a way that's pretty remarkable, too."
The crucial long-range question about Palin is whether she becomes the banner carrier for Republican conservatives, especially social conservatives, earning their support for the GOP nomination in 2012.
Conservative author and publicist Craig Shirley argues that Palin's "first job was to unify the convention and this she accomplished, even better than expected. Her second job was to rally the base and at this she has been less successful, though through little fault of her own. ... Her only weakness is that her handlers did not believe in Palin as much as she believed in herself and as a result, she has been damaged and thus has some rehabilitation work ahead of her."
Shirley holds in disdain those on the right who have criticized or turned against Palin: "The sunshine conservatives and summer Reaganites who have cut and run on Palin are the same weak-sister Republicans who chose Gerald Ford over 'that actor' Ronald Reagan in 1976, because he went to Eureka College and because he foolishly thought we could defeat Soviet Communism. Didn't he know all the sophisticates on both sides supported 'détente'?"
In the immediate aftermath of Palin's nomination over a month ago, Washingtonpost.com's Chris Cillizza noted the surge of enthusiasm for her: "While any number of candidates -- former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- are already being seriously mentioned, Palin has quickly eclipsed all of them when it comes to 2012 positioning. She is seen as the bright new star in the Republican universe and it seems unlikely that her fresh-faced appeal will wear off completely -- especially among the GOP rank and file voters who tend to decide the identity of their party's nominee."
That luster has, however, come off and -- despite Democrats privately cheering her on -- Palin's future as a national politician now appears likely to be damaged.
In what read more like an obituary than a commentary, Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "In the end the Palin candidacy is a symptom and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics. It's no good, not for conservatism and not for the country. And yes, it is a mark against John McCain, against his judgment and idealism."
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