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Commentary: Why Picking Sarah Palin Was Smart Politics

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When I walked into the post office on University Avenue in Minneapolis yesterday, two friendly clerks with whom I’ll occasionally discuss politics exclaimed to me, “You were right!?

Well, not quite. For about two months it is true that I have been telling anyone who asked (including my friends at the local Post Office) that McCain’s smartest choice for Vice-President was Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska.

However, I must confess, that I was not at all certain McCain would give the nod to Palin when I went to bed Thursday evening. Obviously, in retrospect, I should not have doubted McCain’s moxie and, perhaps, his ability to play smart politics.

You see, the choice seemed to be a fairly obvious one once Hillary Clinton’s prospects of securing the VP slot faded quickly after the Democratic primary season ended. In late June 2008, a source of mine who had a source inside the selection process (yes, that would be a seemingly fuzzy source, twice-removed) told me McCain had narrowed his selection down to two candidates – but that such selection between the two was “contingent on which candidate Obama picked.?

What that told me was McCain would select a woman if Obama did not.

In an interview I gave with WCCO-TV earlier this month, I told reporter Jason DeRusha that Obama would be well served to pick Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas as his running mate – thus minimizing the attractiveness to McCain of making Palin his VP nominee. (Who knows who McCain’s “other pick? would have been had Obama gone with Clinton or Sebelius. Perhaps Minnesota’s own Tim Pawlenty?).

Now, as to why Palin is a smart pick for McCain.

Democrats today have vehemently argued that 'disgruntled' Clinton supporters will not vote for a (McCain)/Palin ticket. The most common reason they give is that Palin is staunchly pro-life.

The problem with that argument is striking: if the non-Obama Clinton supporters (many of whom are women) were so concerned with policies, such as abortion, they would have flocked to Obama’s camp long ago. The truth is a segment of these voters have already decided to back McCain, who is pro-life.

The truth is this segment of Clinton supporters (a segment ranging from 20 to 50 percent, depending on which poll you read) were backing Hillary because she was a woman, not because they foremost supported traditional Democratic policies. Some of these Clinton backers were thus probably politically agnostic prior to 2008, but were inspired this time around to support a female candidate for president.

Now, will Palin, as a VP nominee, reel in all of those Clinton supporters for McCain? No. But will she reach enough of them? Perhaps.

Democrats also are not going to gain any traction with the second argument they made against Palin today: playing the ‘inexperienced card.’

The problem with that tactic is not so much because Obama himself is potentially vulnerable to such a charge, but because the independents that McCain wishes to shore up or lure into his camp with the Palin selection are likely to be wooed precisely because Palin is a D.C. outsider and thus necessarily lacks the sort of experience that these Democrats are highlighting. To win over the majority of independents, McCain must reclaim the mantle of the maverick he once wore so proudly, and selecting Palin, the Governor of Alaska, certainly enhances that image. (Western governors are notorious for wearing the maverick reputation on their sleeves – remember those great Bill Richardson ads in the early stages of the Democratic primary?).

Moreover, if Democrats insist experience is so objectively valuable a commodity to a successful presidency, all one needs to consider is how the job performance of modern presidents in their second term is nearly always much poorer and riddled with questionable decision-making after having one full term of presidential experience under their belt. (e.g. Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush 43).

In an election likely to be decided by a few points, the actions and the debate performances of the presidential candidates themselves will likely be the determining factor – not the VP selection. But, in a dead-even race, McCain’s pick of Palin may just inspire just enough otherwise apolitical Americans, non-partisans, or disillusioned Clinton supporters to get out and vote to write a different chapter in our history books – one in which the ‘first’ is the first female Vice President of the United States.

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9 Comments


  • Palin is:

    #1 - embroiled in a scandal in Alaska, one which could blow up closer to Election Day (and is sure to be scrutizined much more closely regardless)

    #2 - a woman, and research shows that many Republicans WILL NOT vote for a woman, even at the bottom of the ticket.

    #3 - unknown and thus definable as whatever the Obama camp damn well feels like

    and #4 - TOTALLY UNDERCUTTING the McCain camp's core message. Palin is MUCH less experienced than Obama in almost every way, and due to McCain's health concerns, she is fairly likely to actually assume the presidency if elected. She has absolutely no expertise in, for example, foreign relations.

    Electorally, she makes little sense (and the polling shows that there are not massive numbers of disaffected Clinton supporters just waiting for a reason to vote Republican), especially given the misogynistic tendencies of the Republican rank-and-file. In terms of the job she is running for, she makes much less sense. How is she a smart pick again?

  • Going by numbers:

    #1. Being investigated. No scandal. (and Obama is not being investigated? puleeze)

    #2. A woman..what? No way could a woman be more qualified than Obama (sarcasm)

    #3. Unknown. Yea...let's chose Obama for his vision of "change" Biden.

    #4. Totally CHECKMATED the Dems. And Palin is just as qualified to be VP as Obama is President.

    These claims are humorous, at best.

  • Time to leave drop this blog. I've had too much of Eric's 'if you only knew as much as I know' vanity.

    This is an academic sponsored site, and I expect something more than poll surfing and game analysis.

  • > Time to leave drop this blog. I've had too much of Eric's 'if
    > you only knew as much as I know' vanity.
    >
    > This is an academic sponsored site, and I expect
    > something more than poll surfing and game analysis.

    Sorry to lose you as a reader. Though, if you read Smart Politics regularly, you would have come across the following entries, which i believe fit what I am guessing your image of an 'academic blog' should be to a 't' - all written, by the way, in the month of August:

    http://blog.lib.umn.edu/cspg/smartpolitics/2008/08/3rd_cd_dfl_experiences_histori.php

    http://blog.lib.umn.edu/cspg/smartpolitics/2008/08/will_gop_controversy_put_16th.php

    http://blog.lib.umn.edu/cspg/smartpolitics/2008/08/will_minnesotans_turn_out_on_p.php

    http://blog.lib.umn.edu/cspg/smartpolitics/2008/08/pawlenty_vp_pick_would_be_rare.php

    http://blog.lib.umn.edu/cspg/smartpolitics/2008/08/iowa_house_democrats_eye_to_ex.php

    http://blog.lib.umn.edu/cspg/smartpolitics/2008/08/what_is_the_democratic_ceiling.php

    Regarding polls. First of all, the Humphrey Institute sponsored a poll in August with Minnesota Public Radio, so I naturally had several entries on those results this month - this is a Humphrey blog, as you know.

    But, generally, yes - I do incorporate analysis of polling results frequently at Smart Politics, though I endeavor to provide a somewhat more layered / historical analysis of the results rather than a simple, here-are-the-numbers / drive-by perspective. I hope I succeed at that.

    You may not be completely out of line regarding your comment about vanity / arrogance; that is, if one equates my noting Smart Politics' track record and election predictions from time to time. Accountability for one's words should be encouraged, even those, I would argue, for projections that happen to be right.

    That 'arrogance' is admittedly peppered into a Smart Politics blog every now and then -- though probably on a scale of, say, about 1 in every 50 entries: not that notable, in my view. So, I am guessing what you're really upset with is the Palin issue (or her selection itself?) and not truly your observation of an overall pattern of arrogance. That said, to be sure, if and when my analysis and election predictions become as pedestrian or error-ridden as other blogs, then I'll be humbled accordingly. If, however, you believe academics should not be in the business of making predictions, to that I have no rejoinder.

  • I agree. McCain picking Sarah Palin was very smart politics. Don't be fooled by her young age. This woman is very bright and get's things done. How else could she have managed raising 5 kids, supporting a champion snowmobile racer, become governor of the state of Alaska, and the list goes on. She has a can do attitude and that's exactly what this country needs right now.

    Help spread the good word ...
    http://www.mccainpalinshirt.com
    Go McCain Palin in 2008!

  • Is it smart politics to name an unvetted running mate after 20 minutes of discussion?

  • I agree with the post and McCain Palin Fan comment.

    It's obvious that she is not an idiot.

    The fact that she is a women.. it's about time! America could use a Mom to whip us in shape.

    http://www.sarah-palin-nude.com (nude truth)
    McCain Palin in 2008!

  • i came across this page via another link.

    it's interesting that the web has an archival nature to it.

    a majority of the nation was going "huh?" when Palin was selected by in 2008. some interviews and public appearances later, Palin's lack of "smarts" showed.

    i think you had confused intelligence with smarts. my cousin is very intelligent and was very capable in high school. he delivers pizza for Domino's now.

    Pailn is intelligent and capable. but good thing you have to actually have smarts (knowledge) as well to succeed.

  • Leave a comment


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