28 October 2008

Sarah Palin: A Gift to Democrats, More Than Realized

Earlier this evening, I was reading in TIME magazine Joe Klein's interview and analysis of Barack Obama and his campaign: Why Barack Obama is Winning. Klein emphasized how Obama has run a "no-drama" campaign, reflecting both the candidate's personal temperament, as well as an underlying campaign strategy and ability to stay on message which the electorate seems to have found appealing throughout this lengthy campaign.

A day or two ago, Jack Cafferty on the CNN website posed a simple question to the audience: Was Palin as VP pick a mistake? An onslaught of online respondents basically said yes. Some went further to say that Palin was a "gift" to the Democrats. The moment McCain erratically* chose an inexperienced, unknowledgeable governor from a far flung rural state, he not only handed the election gift to the Democrats, he also gave himself a scapegoat for his likely loss to the surging Obama campaign.

I was just thinking about these two news stories and I realized there was a connection. Klein pointed out how Obama has managed to keep the Democrats in a no-drama mode these past couple of months, while McCain's erratic campaign has continually struggled to bring various Republicans in line. Yet, for many months in the spring and summer, all the news was about how the Democrats would be split between the supporters of Obama and Clinton. Right through the last day of the Denver convention, there was talk about Obama needing to win over Hillary supporters in order to avoid a detrimental splintering of the party.

My modest realization was that Sarah Palin, while credited with securing the Republican, pro-life, evangelical, 2nd amendment exercising, small town, blue collar base, and also responsible for a relentless "liberal" media firestorm, was probably also the galvanizing force which brought Hillary supporters over to Obama's camp. From the day Palin was announced, the talk about a fractured Democratic party evaporated. For one thing, by design, Palin's surprise candidacy sucked all the oxygen out of the room. The Denver stadium speech by Obama from the night before was quickly forgotten. But then the backlash was quick: McCain was accused of offending women voters for crudely attempting to win over Hillary supporters with a woman candidate who shared none of Hillary's values. While Palin's gender was apparently just icing on the cake of her Washington outsider, government reformer and social conservative profile, it was her low brow attack statements at Obama, starting with her reveal date, through the Minneapolis convention, and to this day, which brought the Democrats together.

For so long, it was feared that Hillary would galvanize the Republicans. Thanks to Obama winning the primary and McCain's inability to nominate his initial preferences for a pro-choice VP (Liebermann or Ridge), the galvanizing role was instead given to Palin.

And here we are, with the aggregate polls giving Obama a 5 to 10 point lead, and somewhere between 277 and 320 electoral college votes, let's keep our fingers crossed that Sarah Palin continues to be McCain's gift that keeps on giving.

*see Robert Draper's fantastic article in the New York Times, Oct 22, 2008: The Making (and Remaking) of McCain