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Evans

Palin as VP

Sean Evans, Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science
Aug 29, 2008

Senator John McCain's choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as the Republican Vice President nominee is a potential game changing pick -- both good and bad.

First, her pick sends a message that the McCain-Palin ticket is the "change ticket" and that this is not George Bush's Republican Party. The biggest albatross around Republican's necks this November is George Bush and the Republian congresses of 2000-2006. McCain has the maverick image due to his opposition to many Bush and Republican policies and the Palin pick reinforces it because Palin is the reform governor of Alaska. She barely lost the Republican nomination in 2002 for Lieutenant Govenor running against the establishment and then defeated the Republican establishment in 2006 to win the Republican primary running on a reform agenda and then cruised to an easy victory in the general election. Since then she has pushed ethics reform in Alaska, tried to clean up the Republican Party by even encouraging a challenge to Congressman Don Young, opposed pork barrel spending, etc. The one potential problem is a potential scandal over firing her sister's ex-husband as a state trooper. Overall, her record makes it difficult to describe her or McCain as typical Republicans. This helps the Republicans grab the "change" mantle.

Second, her pick is a clear attempt to go after disaffected Hillary supporters. Many of Hillary Clinton's supporters were thrilled about electing the first female president and breaking the glass ceiling. Some of those will now take a look at Palin. I do not think that many of those will support Palin because she disagrees with them on the issues, especially abortion. However, it does help the party firm up support among suburban women who have been trending Democratic over education and health care. They can identify with the career mother which should help with the female vote and can potentially swing enough votes to put a few states in play.

Third, conservatives will be thrilled. As the mother of 5 children, she will make social conservatives happy. In fact, she knew her most recent son has downs syndrome but still brought the child to term. That reinforces her pro-life credentials. The problem she may face is that people may say that she should stay home and help raise the child instead of spend time politicking across the country.I also think that economic conservatives will be happy. She has opposed pork barrel spending in Alaska, has supported small government, and supports drilling in Alaska. Plus, she has a background as a small business owner. National security conservatives may be a bit disappointed due to her lack of experience but they are happy with McCain.

Fourth, she will give Biden fits in the debate. Biden will face what others face in debating a woman. How does he attack without looking paternalistic or overbearing? Moreover, she can identify with vets because her son has enlisted with the military. That takes away part of Biden's trump card because his son is deploying to Iraq. She can say she is just as concerned because her son may go there. Biden still has her on experience though. Finally, she is a great advocate for drilling. She is a former member of the Alaska Oli and Gas Conservation Commission. Who knows best about ANWR and what drilling can do? She lives there. Plus, she was responsible for getting the legislature to create a pipeline to get natural gas to the lower 48 within 10 years which helps with energy independence. Plus, natural gas is considered cleaner than other fossil fuels helping with the environmental debate.

There are some weaknesses. First, she does not have much experience and her pick undermines one of the main arguments against Obama. Republicans have been talking about whether Obama has the experience to answer the phone at 3am. Well, Palin has less experience. She has been a city councilwoman and mayor of Wasilla and governor of Alaska for less than two years. While her overall years in politics is more than Obama, the competitiveness and nature of Wasilla and Alaska politics is not the same as Illinois and Washington even though she ran against the establishment. And while the VP is not the same as the president, the #1 job qualification of the VP is that s/he is ready to be president. I predict that the Republicans will start talking about judgment and drop the experience card.

Second, is she ready for prime time as her life and everything she says will be subject to exacting scrutiny? As I said Wasilla and Alaska is not D.C. The last time we brought an inexperienced woman to a national ticket was Geraldine Ferraro and her husband's business dealings and other things was a source of endless embarressment. How she handles herself in the next few days is key to also not getting the same image of Dan Quayle. She will have to be very careful because everything she says will be sparsed carefully.

She will probably also struggle in the VP debate due to her inexperience, especialy with foreign policy. The advantage she has is low expectations. Unless Biden wipes the floor with her, which is unlikely due to the difficulty of debating a woman, means that she probably comes out ahead.

Palin has the opportunity to be a game changer. We'll just have to see how it turns out to change the game for better or worse for McCain and the Republicans.

P.S. Props to Micah Watson who said Palin would be the pick even when everyone else was focusing on Pawlenty and Romney.