Palin– Big Payoff?

  I first heard of John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin returning to Miami from Denver, with a planeload of Florida Democratic delegates.  Most were deliriously happy about Palin, believing she was a “Hail Mary” choice and a clear pander to disaffected Hillary-ites who, the Dems believed, would want nothing to do with a right-wing, pro-life unknown from Alaska.  They thought their ticket had just gotten a big boost.

  The only person I talked to that day who thought Sarah Palin had much of an upside was a woman who worked for Emily’s List, the feminist PAC.  She agreed that Clinton partisans would not flock to McCain’s side because of Palin, but she theorized that a lot of undecided red-state women would be drawn to the GOP VP candidate.

  That was before the string of dubious news stories about Palin– the pregnant daughter, the probe into whether she tried to get her sister’s ex fired from his state trooper job, her hiring of a lobbyist to get Federal “earmark” appropriations for her city, and her “Bridge to Nowhere” change of mind (for it as a candidate, against once she was governor).

  But none of those stories made much of a dent in the thinking of my unscientific sampling of voters in Pembroke Pines today.   The thing they’d heard most about– the pregnant daughter– they thought was a private matter.  The public-corruption probe involving the trooper hasn’t registered.

  Lukewarm Mccain backer Jennifer Williams thought Palin made John McCain “more likable”, adding “she seems like a go-getter”.  Still-undecided Democrat David White thought, if Palin seemed like she knew her stuff on foreign affairs, he might go Republican: “I think the Vice Presidents (candidates) will play a big role in what my final decision will be.”

   Even a Democrat committed to Obama mentioned none of the stories about Palin that have kept 24-hour cable chattering non-stop.  “She doesn’t  have enough time in public service to run the country”, said Sidney Cooley.

   Watching her speech (and the rest of tonight’s GOP convention session), it seems clear that Sarah Palin’s on the ticket to keep red states red.  Over and over, the attack lines were about Democratic candidates who look down on small-town America like Wasilla, Alaska.  “I’m sorry Barack Obama doesn’t find it cosmopolitan enough”,  jabbed Rudy Giuliani.  Several speakers reprised Obama’s comments about folks who “cling to religion and guns” out of bitterness.

  There’s been a lot of speculation that Obama-Biden could win some Mountain Time Zone states that have been red a long time– Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, and even Alaska.  Palin should make that harder.

  Her speech was well-crafted and well-received.  The crowd was primed to love her, eager to cheer all the louder, as a rebuke to what they regarded as unfair media focus on Palin (every time I tuned to Fox News Channel, Sean Hannity was fulminating about the media’s campaign to destroy Palin).

  Perhaps she’ll close the “enthusiasm gap” Republicans have been laboring under.  Her speech certainly not only revved up the crowd with home-spun biography.  It also had plenty of stinging attack on Barack Obama (her job was a small-town mayor was a lot like his as a community organizer “except that you have actual responsibility”, was one of the better lines).

  But delivering a red-meat speech to a hall of partisans is one thing.  Sarah Palin will need to show grit under pressure, facility in debate (Palin vs. Biden will be fascinating), and show sure-footedness under the white-hot spotlight of this campaign.

  If she falters, she may wind up as “Dan Quayle in a dress”,  the description  FL Democratic chair Karen Thurman laid on her hours after she was named to the ticket.

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