The choice of the Alaska Governor Sarah “Barracuda” Palin as the Republican vice-presidential candidate appears to have been a masterstroke, notwithstanding the derision in a section of the American media and the initial reaction of “Sarah who?” of most of the world. This is all the more remarkable, as extensive documentation and interviews by the New York Times seem to suggest, considering her selection was made at the last-minute, without the full due diligence normally accorded to such decisions.
The Republican Right has been galvanised, volunteers have been energised even through the Labour Day weekend, pro-life and NRA forces have received a shot in the arm (pun intended), disgruntled, die-hard feminist warriors have a possible rallying point, and the average Joe Blow likes this “spunky gal”. She is quite photogenic, designer titanium frames and all, and wears her pregnant teenage daughter and Down’s syndrome infant like medals. As Maureen Dowd remarked, she is the Trophy Vice! By comparison, Joe Biden is about as attractive as a used Humvee gathering dust in a For Sale lot.
In many ways, Palin appears at a first glance to bring strengths to the Republican ticket. She is young at 44, was a former beauty queen and is the governor of the largest state in terms of area (though as Gail Collins of the New York Times puts it, with only 630,000 people, Alaska is smaller than many a big city!). She was extremely articulate in her acceptance speech, and aggressive as her nickname aptly suggests.
Traditional wisdom has it that the choice of the number two has never been material, but then there has never been a non-white major party presidential candidate, or a candidate as old as 72 ... In many respects, this is turning out to be quite a different election, and we shouldn’t be surprised if the first executive decision of a candidate, that of the choice of the running mate, turns out to be decisive.
The common question asked before the Democratic Convention in Denver two weeks ago was why Obama wasn’t ahead by 15 points in polls as he was running against possibly the most unpopular administration ever. He and McCain have been in a virtual dead heat for well over a month. Again, traditionally, there is a surge, a “bounce”, in the polls immediately following a party nominating convention in favour of its candidate. This did not happen after the Denver convention of the Democrats, most likely because the Palin announcement coincided with that event. There are several other signs which suggest that the poll outcome would be a lot closer than originally appeared likely.
Conservatives outnumber Liberals in the US, possibly by a margin of 2:1. Common consensus would label both Obama and Biden as Liberals, whereas the addition of Palin makes even the maverick McCain Conservative.
Conservatives have a better track record of mobilising and getting the voters out than the Liberals.
Even though both the tickets have persons in elective positions, the Republicans would be more successful in conveying the outsider, non-establishment image than the Democrats. This is despite the fact that Republicans have had the presidency for the last eight years and controlled both houses of the Congress for six of those eight years. McCain’s maverick status and Palin’s frontier-woman sharp shooter image contributes to this. By contrast, the lawyerly-scholarly Obama-Biden team is too button-down eastern establishment. In fact, there has been no such eastern establishment after the Kennedy presidency, but folklore still believes it exists.
With oil prices steadily falling over the last several weeks, the edge from the gas price issue has gone. In July, with oil prices inching closer to $ 150 a barrel, I had thought this to be the key issue, and appeared to be in the august company of many commentators. It is now more likely to be on the back-burner. Things could change though if oil starts climbing again. In fact, the personalisation of the two tickets seems to have pushed a whole plethora of economic issues, including the banking and sub-prime crisis, reform of medicare and social security and rising deficit into the background.
Obama began his upward march with his fine speech on the race issue last March (“Obama’s Glory”, 22 March). He now seems to have used up his charisma and novelty factor in the long and gruelling fight for the nomination against Clinton. Suddenly, he looks like yesterday’s flavour, while Palin appeals as today’s and generally sexier. McCain, though drab, will be sparingly used.
The deep-seated animosity (or fear) of a non-white candidate was likely to surface sooner or later (euphemistically called electability by the Clintons) and the more the black vote consolidates behind Obama, the more the Republican campaign will pander to this fear, if not directly, then by implication and innuendo. Remember Dukakis? And the Rev Wright can bounce back any time!
The hardcore Clinton and feminist support to the Democratic ticket could well be lukewarm.
It is early days yet and as has happened before, voters do not make up their minds until pretty close to the election date. Remember, Hillary Clinton was supposed to have sowed up the Democratic nomination, only to be shown the door by the upstart Obama. Between now and election day, many things could happen that could favour the Democrats: Something more than moose-polar bear skeletons comes out of the Alaskan cupboards, Biden electrifies, Obama gets sexier and McCain gets dementia. Equally likely, there could be an Obama fatigue, Biden ennui, Palin becomes America’s sweetheart, and McCain dons the Reagan mantle.
It’s an interesting election, that could be quite close. For most of the world, what could be worse than a McCain presidency? The actuarial possibility of the forty-fifth president of the United States!
6 months ago