Everyone's trying to figure out whether or not Gov. Sarah Palin, Sen. John McCain's pick for vice presidential running mate, has experience. As far as election strategy goes, it doesn't matter that Palin has little experience. Sen. John Kerry had far more experience and was several times smarter than President Bush, but in the 2004 debates, Bush behaved like an idiot child kicking sand, Kerry responded with intelligent remarks, and the voters picked Bush anyway. With Palin, McCain is going after two things simultaneously: 1) the feminist-minded voters still pissed that Obama beat Clinton and 2) the independents who don't see themselves in either party.
As "the most popular governor in America," Palin's approval rating in Alaska has hovered around 80 to 90 percent. She's a wildly successful politician who appeals to rugged Alaska female individualists as well as the soccer moms (and in Alaska, these aren't mutually exclusive), at the same time that she puts men at ease because she's no Gregoire. Her branded persona is to embrace both sex appeal (she was Miss Wasilla) and the serious role (glasses and suits), and her strategy has been to go after what Alaskans want: their oil and gas companies to prosper but share the wealth.
As the young, female counterpoint to Obama, her candidacy for vice president could work in McCain's favor in a way that no other candidate would have, drawing middle-aged Clinton supporters and young, more conservative voters originally favoring Obama to the Republican side — unless she says something dumb (she hasn't yet) or the corruption scandals rocking Alaska brush her more forcefully than they already have.
Pundits this season seem to underestimate the power of the abortion issue within the Christian right. Anti-abortion, one-issue voters, of which there are still many, will vote for McCain regardless, as the lesser of two evils. He's using the VP spot to capture those outside that base.
What will be interesting to see is how the McCain-Palin ticket reconciles Palin's approach to the oil industry, which is to tax them in Alaska in a way that the U.S. Congress refused to do but open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to exploration and drilling. Word has it that McCain was already re-thinking his opposition to drilling in ANWR, just in advance of this vp announcement.
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