Thursday, December 25, 2008

Why pick sarah Palin?

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on September 18th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

In my column last week I noted some of the most glaring contrasts that I saw between the Democratic and Republican National Conventions so this week I want to continue along this same track and offer a bit of my own analysis of what underlies them.
I overheard Peggy Noonan, a respected Republican columnist who writes for the Wall Street Journal, characterizing McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin to be his vice presidential running mate as a “gimmick”. While she isn’t the only Republican who views McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as a desperate political ploy, I think there was a lot more strategic thinking that went into this decision than meets the eye.
To begin with, McCain and his advisors had already spent several months pushing McCain’s “experience” theme against Barack Obama’s presidential campaign theme of “change”, but they had never been able to close the 3 to 9 percentage point lead in national polls that Obama had held since clinching the Democratic nomination last May.
Thus with only 2 months remaining till Election Day, McCain and his campaign manager, lobbyist Rick Davis, knew that the maintaining the status quo was becoming an increasingly risky strategy. So regardless of what others might call it, Mccain correctly (in my opinion) sensed that they needed to do something to change the dynamics of the 2008 Presidential race or they were most likely going to lose the election on 4 November, and McCain’s choice for Vice President was their last realistic chance to shake things up.
McCain’s first choice was Joe Lieberman, and given the fact that Lieberman had been the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate in 2000, this would have definitely created the kind of stir McCain and his campaign advisors were looking for. But while the selection of Lieberman would have stirred up some positive reactions from independents and some of the more conservative older Democratic voters, it would have also alienated many Republican social conservatives. McCain and his campaign staff thus concluded that any gains they might realize among independents and disaffected Democrats would likely be off set by their loss of support from social conservatives.
On the other hand the news media had not already spent several weeks discussing Bobby Jindal, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney as possible running mates social conservatives would find acceptable, so selecting one of them would not shake up the race nor would it arouse much interest from undecided independent and older voters. Furthermore, while all three of these men may have been acceptable to socially conservative Republicans, it was unlikely that their presence on the ticket would encourage a larger than expected number of social conservative to turn out and vote for McCain on Election Day.
Thus having calculated that none of the prospective Vice Presidential candidates they had vetted and considered during the summer would deliver the boost in the polls that McCain needed, his advisors turned their attention to the prospect of something that would; picking a woman to be McCain’s running mate.
A woman would not only be both a historic and a surprise choice as McCain’s Vice President, she would also offer McCain the opportunity to appeal to some of those disaffected white women who had been Hillary Clinton supporters. The right woman wouldn’t have to result in the loss of the support of social conservatives but could instead lead to an increase in support from independent and older Democratic voters.
But with only a few days left until the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, McCain and his advisors also knew they would have to move quickly, even though they knew that making such a decision too hastily might later come back to haunt them.
Four women who McCain and his staff believed social conservatives would support were considered; Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, North Carolina Senator Libby Dole, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. So how did McCain end up picking the woman with the least experience of the four?
Well, Dole had the experience and name recognition McCain wanted, but was eliminated because she was the same age as McCain and his advisors believed McCain needed someone younger on the ticket.
While Rice was much younger and had the same qualifications as Dole, she was also black and thus not likely to increase the turnout of the older racially prejudiced white voters McCain is counting on to vote for him on 4 November.
Even though Hutchison also had good qualifications, she was also 65. Because she was only 7 years younger than McCain, her age was not deemed to be an attractive quality for a Vice President running with the oldest Presidential candidate in US history.
So through this process of elimination, John McCain was left with only one candidate who could address his need for a younger woman as a vice presidential running mate; Governor Sarah Palin. The only real risk McCain was running in selecting Palin as his Vice President was the fact that she had very little political experience and was a relative unknown to most American voters outside of the state of Alaska. It also meant that McCain would have to abandon his “experience” trumps “change” argument and try to recast himself as a “change” candidate just like Obama had done.
While most political media pundits in the states think McCain made a very risky move by plucking Palin from her perch as a first term Governor of a sparsely populated state to be his Vice President, I disagree. In fact I believe selecting Palin was actually the best choice McCain could have made if he wanted to have any realistic chance to close the consistent lead in national polls that Barack Obama had held throughout the summer. In other words, the potential rewards to be gained by picking Sarah Palin outweighed the risks associated with abandoning his attacks on Obama’s lack of experience.
Will McCain’s sudden change in campaign strategy work? That’s our discussion for next week.

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