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Working the Sarah Palin Puzzle

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On August 29, John McCain surprised many of us when he named first-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Most people I've spoken with had, like me, never heard of her.

And the theories on why McCain picked her were diverse.

Many people I spoke with saw it as an attempt to lure disgruntled Hillary supporters into the McCain camp.

Others saw it as an attempt to appeal to the religious conservative base and/or the gun lobby.

Some called it a Hail Mary pass.

Some speculated that the other possibilities on the short list had declined the offer.

And some saw it as a sign that McCain knows that he is the captain of a sinking ship and has stopped trying. And now he can at least spend the next few months of this campaign hanging out with a very attractive female running mate. (I wonder what Cindy thinks.)

While I disagree with that last theory, the others all seem plausible, as does a combination of any or all of the above.

But will this strategy work, whatever the reasons behind it?

That depends on how the McCain campaign will portray Palin, and how the Obama campaign will respond over time.

There are plenty of things about Gov. Palin that may appeal to right-wing voters, but there are also some drawbacks.

First let's look at the plusses.

Conservatives might support her, and vote for her, because she is staunchly anti-choice, anti-gay, pro-gun, pro-homeschooling, supports Big Oil to the detriment of the environment and the polar bears, and believes that creationism should be taught in schools alongside evolution.

She will also enable the McCain campaign to play another sympathy card. Palin has an infant with Down Syndrome, which they can use along with McCain's POW experience to win some sympathy votes that have nothing to do with the real issues that affect us.

There may be some women who will vote for her just because she is a woman.

And there may be some men who will vote for her just because she is a very attractive woman. (Like Cindy McCain, Gov. Palin is a former beauty queen.)

Never overestimate the intelligence and common sense of the average American voter.

On the other hand, there are some downsides for the McCain campaign:

She has been Alaska's governor for less than two years. The population of the entire state of Alaska is roughly equal to that of Memphis. Before winning the governorship, she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, a small town with a population somewhere between 6,700 and 8,500. She began her political career in the PTA.

In other words, she is inexperienced. The McCain campaign will no longer be able to play the experience card against Obama. (But it will be fun to watch the highly experienced Joe Biden "educate" her on foreign and domestic policy issues during the vice-presidential debate.)

Her education amounts to a Bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Idaho.

A lot of conservatives still believe that a woman's place is in the home, not in the White House or on the campaign trail, especially when she should be looking after her special-needs infant.

And I cannot believe that there is a significant number of disgruntled Hillary supporters who would vote for an anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-science, anti-environment candidate just because she is a woman. After all, Palin's views are pretty much the opposite of Hillary's views on most of the issues. On the other hand, the National Organization for Women has described Palin's Democratic counterpart Joe Biden as "the VP candidate who appeals to women, with his authorship and championing of landmark domestic violence legislation, support for pay equity, and advocacy for women around the world."

But stranger things have happened. Like the 2004 reelection of George W. Bush.

Whatever the outcome, one thing is for sure: This race for the White House just keeps getting more and more interesting every day.
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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)
 

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