By choosing Sarah Palin as the Republican candidate for Vice-President, McCain's all-lobbyist high command showed us three things about their analysis of the state of the race:
* They understand that if the current campaign dynamic continues they will lose. The New York Times' most recent analysis shows 172 electoral votes solidly in Obama's camp, and 79 leaning to Obama. That would leave Obama needing only 19 of the 60 electoral votes they categorize as "toss ups." Obama shows slight leads in most of these "toss up states." Campaigns that are confident in their current game plan don't throw long "Hail Mary" passes like the Palin nomination.
* They have come to agree that the basic premise of Obama's candidacy is correct: that in an electorate where 82% of the voters think the country is on the wrong track, the need for change trumps experience.
* They recognize clearly that the "enthusiasm gap" among their base voters dogs their chances for success. Democrats are mobilized, their base is positively apathetic.
Palin's selection was intended to change the dynamics of the race. It had three goals:
1). First and foremost it was intended to energize the party's grassroots, right wing evangelical base. This is the one goal it might actually help achieve. Early reports show that the selection of the ultra right wing, anti-choice Palin thrilled the James Dobson's of the world and their followers. This will increase the importance of the superb field mobilization efforts the Obama Campaign is developing in the 18 swing states -- and especially Ohio and Michigan. It also reemphasizes the enormous importance of the voter registration efforts being conducted by the campaign and many Democratic leaning organizations.
2). Second, Palin's choice was intended to reframe the McCain-Palin ticket as "pro-change." McCain's high command hoped that in and of itself the appointment of a relatively young, dynamic woman would help reframe the appearance of his candidacy. But here their gambit will ultimately fall flat.
More than anything else voters want change in our economy. They are sick of the status quo because their incomes have dropped and prices have increased. They believe that their kids are staring at a future of less opportunity than their own. They know that this is not the American dream.
The problem is that Palin completely supports the Bush-McCain economic program that in seven and a half years has taken Americans from the most prosperous period in human history to a period of economic stagnation and decline.
And when it comes to foreign policy -- the other area where voters really want change -- she brings nothing at all.
In other words Palin's appointment does nothing to alter the basic dynamics of the race: the choice between more of the same, or the change we need.
3). Finally, McCain's advisers hoped to use the choice of Palin to attract women. But there is a real question whether it will attract a net increase of women voters aside from consolidating the conservative women they would likely have gotten anyway.
Many of the Democratic women who had backed Clinton were positively insulted by the notion that they would back anyone with two x chromosomes, no matter what her positions on crucial issues -- not matter how thin her resume. A Denver Post editorial paraphrased Lloyd Bentsen's famous line from his debate with Dan Quayle: "I served with Hillary Clinton. I know Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is a friend of mine. You, Sarah Palin, are no Hillary Clinton." In initial polling from Gallup, among Democratic women -- including many who supported Hillary Clinton - 9% say that Palin makes them more likely to support McCain, and 15% less likely - a net negative of 6%.
Palin will have no appeal among independent women in places like the Philadelphia or Detroit suburbs that are strongly pro-choice and anti-gun. The fact that she denies the importance of global warming and planned to sue the EPA to prevent the Polar Bear from being added to the Endangered Species list will seal the deal.
In fact, in early polling, men are more likely to be impressed by Palin than women.
But that's not all. Palin's nomination also carries with it a number of major new problems for McCain.
Most importantly it completely eliminates any advantage McCain had on the question of "experience" and cuts the legs out from under his entire "not ready to lead" attack on Obama. To quote Jake Tapper of ABC, her lack of experience makes Barack Obama look like Robert Byrd. Just 20 months ago she was the part time mayor of Wasilla - a town of 9,000. Unless you count living in a state that is across the Bering Straight from Siberia, she has zero experience with anything remotely resembling foreign or security policy. And she has only been Governor of Alaska for two and a half years.
Voters want their leaders to be on their side. In this case that means they must favor the change people believe they need. But they also want a threshold level of experience -- demonstrated ability as a strong effective leader -- especially from a President. Barack Obama spent eight years as a State Senator (representing a district 10 times as large as Wasilla), and four years in the U.S. Senate. In addition he has demonstrated his abilities as a strong effective leader by organizing one of the most effective campaigns for President in American history. He has shown his ability to hire great staff, to manage a sprawling 50 state organization, and effectively communicate and inspire millions of Americans.
His recent trip to Europe and the Middle East, his effective campaign, his depth of knowledge of the issues, his temperament and judgment -- have begun to convince most voters that he has passed the "commander-in-chief" test.
It will be hard for most American's to imagine Sarah Palin as Commander-in-Chief. That's not because she is a woman. People can now easily imagine Hillary Clinton in that role. It's because they have no reason on earth to believe that she could fill the role of the most powerful leader in the world.
I originally thought that Palin's choice would take the question of experience off the table in this race. Now I believe it will put that question back on the table -- in reverse. It will also serve to reemphasize the ever present question of McCain's age. At 72 the actuarial tables say he has a little less than a one in six chance of not surviving his term. And that doesn't account for his history of health problems. That means that if Americans vote for the McCain-Palin ticket they have to seriously consider that she has at least a one in six chance of actually serving as commander-in-chief. Already, by 44% to 29%, the Rasmussen poll shows that they do not believe she is ready to be President.
By eliminating any advantage on the experience question, McCain has placed the full focus of the debate right where we want it: do Americans want the change we need, or more of the same. If that's the debate election day, we will win hands down.
Finally, McCain chose a running mate that is currently under investigation for using here position as Governor to settle a score with her ex-brother-in-law who was also a state trooper. This investigation may provide a good portion of the narrative that defines Palin for most Americans. It will raise three questions in voter's minds:
* Abuse of office for personal ends. Alaska's former commissioner of public safety claims that the Governor fired him -- at least in part because he refused to fire her ex-brother-in-law who was involved in a bitter custody case with her sister.
* Vindictiveness. Palin's crusade against her ex-brother-in-law (who - in fairness -- does not sound like a very nice fellow) has apparently gone on for some time. Voters like tough. They don't like vindictive and mean.
* Administrative ability. Palin's replacement for commissioner of public safety had to resign two weeks after she appointed him because he had been reprimanded for sexual harassment in a previous job. So much for her ability to vet appointees.
Of course the final question the Palin appointment raises is McCain's own judgment and administrative ability. McCain had only talked to his new running made twice before he asked her to join the ticket. Someone said yesterday that they knew their barista at Starbucks better than McCain knew the person who -- if he were elected -- would be a heart beat away from stepping into the most powerful position in the World. What was he thinking?
Robert Creamer is a long time political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on Amazon.com.
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