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Rob Stein

Rob Stein

Posted: September 5, 2008 02:53 PM

The Palin Effect


Warning to Democrats: do not underestimate the political significance of John McCain's choice of Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Whatever Governor Palins' strengths and weaknesses as a candidate may prove to be, one set of attributes is undeniable and highly relevant politically - she uniquely and personally embodies every essential component of the Republican electoral calculus.

Consider the facts. In 2004, 62 million people voted for President Bush, of whom 54 million (87%) were white men and women. Fewer than 38 million whites voted for John Kerry (64% of his 59 million votes). Thus, sixteen million more whites voted for Bush than for Kerry.

Bush voters generally were significantly more married (12 million more); protestant evangelicals (16 million more); people with annual income exceeding $50,000 (9 million more); and living in households owning guns (15 million more) than Kerry voters. (These numbers are derived from exit polls conducted by the broadcast networks and are the only, albeit imperfect, source of information on the demographics of voting)

These specific demographic groups - white, married, avid gun owning, devoutly and politically religious, with incomes over $50,000 - were the bedrock of the Republican Presidential electoral majority in 2004.

Governor Palin personally fits all of these demographic categories, and therefore, naturally excites and energizes each and every one of them.

This has profound political significance. When passionately energized, the Right-wing has formidable human and financial assets to mobilize tens of millions of voters, particularly in what are perceived to be close elections.

As recently as several months ago, James Dobson, head of the largest alliance of politicized evangelical churches, Focus on the Family, was negative about supporting John McCain.

Then, as if lightening had struck, on August 29th after Governor Palin selection was announced, Dobson issued a press release praising her as an "outstanding choice" that "should be extremely reassuring to the conservative (Republican) base..."

The Right's non-party machinery now suddenly has a laser-like focus on creating a "surge" of voters for McCain-Palin. This machinery is vast, strategically targeted, exceptionally well-financed, and ready to rumble.

For example, in 2004, the National Rifle Association and its thousands of affiliated gun clubs throughout the country, helped to mobilize over 30 million votes for President Bush from people who own guns. John Kerry received the vote of roughly 17 million gun owners.

The core audience for several hundred hours per week of right-wing talk radio is heavily white male. These programs' bombastic hosts (e.g., Limbaugh, Hannity, Praeger, Malkin, etc.) blanket the radio airwaves daily with diatribes against anything center-left and bestow effusive praise for everything conservative-right. This politically relevant drumbeat helped to produce 27 million white male voters for Bush, compared to just 16 million for Kerry.

The religious-right has built a potent complex of activist non-profit organizations and media outlets that maintain a political conversation with their constituencies on a daily basis. This includes Focus on the Family (Dobson's network of tens of thousands local churches), Christian Broadcast Network (the media empire built by Pat Robertson), Salem Communications (the largest for-profit conglomerate of politically active Christian radio stations, publications and internet sites) and many others. This politically oriented religious machinery helped to produce 22 million protestant evangelical votes for President Bush in 2004, compared to about 6 million for Senator Kerry.

These, and others groups - such as the National Federation of Independent Business Owners (targeting voters who operate their own businesses, many of whom have incomes in excess of $50,000 annually), and veteran's organizations (predominantly older white men) - will mobilize voters this fall through an army of impassioned volunteers in thousands of communities in every "solid" and "likely" Republican state and in every "swing" state.

Collectively, these right-wing, movement groups will provide hundreds of millions of dollars worth of canvassing, registering, phoning, and leafleting to get tens of millions of voters to the polls for Republicans in dozens of states in November.

None of this guarantees a McCain victory. Indeed, given Obama's competitive advantages, McCain's weaknesses, and the grave damage that the Bush Administration has caused the country, Obama-Biden should hold virtually all of Kerry's 59 million votes, skim some votes that Bush received in 2004, receive millions more votes from first time voters, and therefore, emerge victorious in November with 63-65 million votes, or more.

Nevertheless, the addition of Governor Palin to the Republican ticket does more to excite each of the right's demographically targeted machines than anything that has happened in this election cycle thus far. That is a sobering threat that the Obama campaign, and all Democrats, would ignore at their peril.