There wasn't anything subtle about John McCain's vice presidential selection. With the selection of Sarah Palin, Republicans clearly believe that adding a woman, any woman, to the ticket will lead women to vote for them. I decided to find out if they were right.
I interviewed professional women ranging in age from their mid thirties to late fifties. They are Democrats, lifelong Republicans, Independents, and women who aren't that interested in politics. They hail from different states and live in different economic circumstances. I won't tell you this is a scientific analysis of women voters. I'll just tell you what they told me.
First was Diane, a professional accountant in Lake Forest, California. Raised in a Republican household and a Hillary Clinton supporter, this fifty-two year old might be one of the women McCain was targeting when he selected a woman running mate. But if they thought picking Palin would convince her to vote McCain, they don't know Diane. "Palin's pro NRA, anti environment, anti choice, and doesn't support sex education.These are what the McCain camp view as her assets. I view them as her failures." Diane had a long list of reasons why she could never support Palin, including two statements she believes in unequivocally: " I believe in the separation of church and state. I believe in a woman's right to control her own body." Obama has her vote, Diane says, no question.
Karon, an entrepreneur from Everett, Washington, doesn't consider herself particularly political. "I'm just a common-sense kind of chick," says the fifty year old independent, raised by a Democratic Mom and Republican Dad. While she used to think of John McCain as "an OK kind of guy," she had nothing good to say about his vice presidential selection. "Are you kidding me? If this was supposed to pick up the female vote, they are way off the mark. Why would any sane woman vote for a woman that doesn't support women's issues?" Karon characterized the selection of Palin as "a strange and desperate attempt to pick up the Hillary voters - won't work though because it's not about 'a woman' - it's about issues - not just any woman will do." Although not avidly following the campaign, like Diane in California Karon's made up her mind and is voting for Obama. "His stance on the issues are in line with my concerns - we care about the same things and I believe he can make things happen."
If there's a vote that John McCain has to have to win, it's Erin from Houston, Texas. But so far the Republican nominee has failed to make his case. A registered Republican who supported Mitt Romney, she now considers herself undecided. She says she doesn't know Barack Obama but does know Joe Biden, and his selection as vice president made her excited. "I know Biden's record. I've heard his interviews and comments on issues over the years. I knew his story and I respected him." And though she's still split between the presidential candidates, she's not so sure about the Republican vice presidential choice, saying the selection "only muddied the waters for me." Erin certainly likes the idea of a working mother becoming president, but says doubtfully, "Palin? I'm not sure she is the right woman."
And then there's Tasha, a lab technician in Tucson, Arizona. Raised in a conservative household Tasha says she too leans conservative on local issues but considers herself a Democrat. Having lived in Arizona for many years, she once thought well of John McCain, adding: "I could have been persuaded to vote for him in 2000." Not now. "I cannot believe what he has become," Tasha said, adding simply; "I actually don't have a single good thing to say about him at this point." As a thirty eight year old woman, Tasha's "never really given a second thought to having the right to vote, having a full-time job while raising a family ,or many of the other issues I think women older than my generation often think about. Women my age and younger were given such great opportunities and shown how to 'bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan' by such fantastic role models, we often forget how hard the struggle was before us." And yet her reaction to McCain's selection was more furious than any other woman interviewed. "Sarah Palin? Really? If you were going to try to make history, this woman? Really? I am offended as a woman and as a voter. She CANNOT be the best choice. A creationist in this day and age? An abstinence-only believer with a pregnant 17-year old daughter? Really? REALLY? It's mind-boggling." Come November she'll be voting for Obama.
Meanwhile, in St. Paul, Minnesota, graduate student Erin Cheuvront reports that John McCain's pick for Vice President is very popular among the staunch Republican women gathered for the convention. "Oh, yes, they love Sarah Palin," Cheuvront reports. "One older woman told me she thought Palin was an inspiration to all women." But these are the votes the Republicans already have. If he hopes to win, John McCain has to reach far past that base and convince other women that his choice of Sarah Palin was a good one.
And if the women I've spoken to are any indication, that might not be possible.