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October 16, 2017

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Palin energizes skeptical base

Conservatives gush as McCain’s VP pick berates Obama, media


Sam Morris

Sarah Palin accepts the adulation of the delegates before her speech at the Republican National Convention.

Republican National Convention

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Sam Morris

Palin's speech

John McCain's vice presidential pick Sarah Palin waves as she takes the stage at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night. Launch slideshow »

Remarks by Sarah Palin

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For months the presidential election has been all about Barack Obama.

The causes: intense media and public interest in the freshman senator from Illinois, and a strategy by the campaign of his Republican opponent, Arizona Sen. John McCain, to make the election a referendum on Obama rather than a choice between the two.

McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has changed the dynamic of the race, with the focus now on the Alaskan, a social conservative who took on her state’s Republican political machine to win election in 2006.

Her speech to the nation Wednesday night telegraphed her role in the campaign: outsider woman, on the attack, always with a smile.

Without a doubt, Palin has fired up the Republican base, especially white evangelicals.

“He needed to shore up the base,” said Pete Ernaut, a Nevada Republican consultant.

“If there was a weak spot, it was conservatives.”

Indeed, McCain showed increased support among Republican women in the latest Gallup poll, likely energized by Palin’s conservative bona fides and unique story — she recently gave birth to her fifth child, a boy with Down syndrome. She’s a hunter and an angler, a fresh-faced former union member whose husband is blue collar and known as the “First Dude.”

She used her speech to highlight this background. About small-town life, she said in her speech Wednesday: “They are the ones who do some of the hardest work in America ... who grow our food, run our factories, and fight our wars.”

Republicans hoped this week that McCain had achieved more than just a revving up of the base, however.

Charles Bass, a former New Hampshire Republican congressman and close McCain ally, said Monday: “John McCain needed to keep the social conservative base of the party. At the same time, he can’t win without independents. He got both.”

The hope was to pick off supporters of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

So far, however, the results have not been encouraging to the McCain campaign.

According to Gallup, McCain drew less support from white independent women and Democrats of all kinds following last week’s Democratic convention and his selection of Palin.

Anecdotal evidence suggests independent and Democratic women look askance at Palin’s opposition to abortion rights, including in cases of rape and incest. Democrats are using advertising saying a Republican victory will curtail abortion rights.

Moreover, some women who were undecided have said they are insulted that McCain would presume they would vote for any woman, including one with less experience than other qualified female candidates.

Although the campaigns have not yet entered the decisive weeks, that McCain is losing ground with independent and Democratic women at this point is not a welcome trend. As Michael McDonald, an expert in voter behavior at George Mason University and the Brookings Institution, noted: “Just appealing to the conservative base will not be sufficient. (Palin) has to articulate a message that reaches out to independents and Democrats to win.”

That’s because of profound changes that have swept the political landscape, with Democrats now holding a 15 percentage point edge in party identification, driven in part by dissatisfaction with President Bush, as well and new voters registering Democratic in big numbers.

Palin reached out to these voters Wednesday night with an appeal to the rigors of middle class family life: “Our family has the same ups and downs as any other ... the same challenges and the same joys. Sometimes even the greatest joys bring challenge.

“And children with special needs inspire a special love. To the families of special-needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters. I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House.”

But Palin and the McCain campaign envisioned a larger purpose for her speech: Create an aura of aggrieved outsider, maverick reformer, besmirched by elitist Eastern liberals and the establishment media.

Palin has been the focus of withering scrutiny in recent days, including the revelation of her 17-year old daughter’s pregnancy; allegations and an investigation into whether she fired the Alaska public safety commissioner because he wouldn’t fire Palin’s former brother-in-law; records showing her husband until 2002 was a member of the Alaskan Independence Party, which has favored secession from the United States; and, contrary to her recent statements, reports showing she initially supported the “bridge to nowhere,” a federal project in remote Alaska that became synonymous with pork barrel spending.

Then there are sleeper issues, such as one that arose in a New York Times report that as mayor of Wasilla, Palin approached the town librarian about banning some books and then fired her, before backtracking.

In her speech Wednesday, she attacked the media with gusto: “I’ve learned quickly, these past few days, that if you’re not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone.”

Palin then lumped the media in with her opponents, using her speech to revert to the traditional role of a vice presidential candidate — attacking the opposition with full fury, calling Obama elitist and out-of-touch, though always with a smile.

“This is a man who can give an entire speech about the wars America is fighting, and never use the word ‘victory’ except when he’s talking about his own campaign. But when the cloud of rhetoric has passed ... when the roar of the crowd fades away ... when the stadium lights go out, and those Styrofoam Greek columns are hauled back to some studio lot — what exactly is our opponent’s plan?”

In some ways, Palin has upstaged McCain. Tonight, though, he has the stage to himself.

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