Palin Pick Makes Everyone Happy

Palin Pick Makes Everyone Happy

By Reid Wilson - August 31, 2008

You can't make everybody happy all the time. That's what Barack Obama found out when he chose Joe Biden as his running mate; some Democratic fans of Hillary Clinton grumbled that she wasn't even seriously considered, while some Republicans grudgingly admitted Biden's experience and gravitas would help Obama.

But by picking Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a little-known fiscal and social conservative just two years into her first term, John McCain executed that rare political feat: He made everybody happy.

Reactions from Republicans across the spectrum were not just positive, they were downright ecstatic. Movement conservatives and professional strategists frequently find themselves disagreeing on what is best politically, but Palin is one of the rare points of agreement.

Palin, who won the office by easily beating Governor Frank Murkowski in the GOP primary, is seen primarily as a reformer. As the Alaska Republican Party reels from scandals that have sent several state lawmakers to jail and could cost Senator Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young their congressional careers, Palin has openly fought with the state party chairman.

From a political perspective, Palin helps reinvent the Republican brand, a task McCain will have to achieve if he is to win in November.

"If Senator McCain wanted to send the signal that he is a maverick and willing to shake up the status quo in Washington, Governor Palin is the perfect choice," GOP strategist Doug Heye said.

"She's taken on the absolute worst elements of the Republican Party -- Don Young, Ted Stevens and the entrenched good old boy Alaska GOP network. She was not only successful, but she did it while remaining immensely popular statewide," said another high-ranking Republican message guru.

"Aside from the obvious fact that she's a woman, she reeks of working class credibility," said Mark Hemingway, who writes for the conservative National Review. "Her taking on Alaska's corrupt politics is a great contrast to Obama carrying water for the Chicago political machine."

Republicans love that McCain picked a governor as well. Palin is "a conservative woman with executive experience who can relate with audiences from Nome to New York," said Rob Collins, chief of staff to Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor.

"Serving as a governor is totally different than serving as a legislator. Governors actually have to make decisions on a daily basis, and they don't have anyone else to rely on when they make those choices," Republican consultant Bill Pascoe added. "She'd probably made more choices in her first three months in office than Obama has during his entire time in government."

Perhaps most of all, by picking Palin, John McCain did the one thing he has been unable to do so far: He excited his own base. Palin's fifth child, born five months ago, was diagnosed with Down's Syndrome; her refusal to consider an abortion made her a hero among pro-life advocates. Her fight with the state legislature and refusal to accept earmarks for the infamous Bridge to Nowhere similarly makes her a darling of fiscal scrooges.

Palin "helps us finish nailing down our base, which, fairly or unfairly, has been slower than usual to get to the ramparts," said Dick Leggitt, a Republican operative in Virginia. "The reaction I have received from activists has been nothing but positive," agreed Saul Anuzis, chair of the Michigan Republican Party.

Palin, along with members of Congress like Cantor and Rep. Paul Ryan, and even Senator Tom Coburn, are seen by younger conservatives as the beginning of a revolution that will boot old-guard Republicans in favor of a younger, more fiscally-conservative set. The new generation of GOP stars, they believe, can lead the party back to majority status, and by picking Palin, McCain has hastened the rise of that new group of reformers.

But it's not only Republicans who are enthusiastic about Palin's position on the presidential ticket. Throughout the day on Friday, Democrats offered a litany of arguments against the Alaska governor.

The single most important in determining the outcome in November may be Palin's limited experience in government. Sure, she's a governor, Democrats say, but it's an office she's held for just over a year and a half. Before that, Palin was mayor of a city with a population just over 8,000, where her signature accomplishments were limited, at best.

Any hope of using Obama's lack of experience against him in November, the party says, is now out the window.

Democrats will also point to Palin's involvement in an ongoing scandal surrounding the firing of a state Public Safety Commissioner, an incident the legislature is investigating through a special prosecutor. The commissioner had refused to fire a state trooper who was the ex-husband of Palin's sister, and evidence points to a cover-up within the governor's office. The timing for Republicans couldn't be worse; the investigation is scheduled to be completed by October 31, just days before the general election.

Though Democrats won't make this case publicly, Palin's youth further highlights McCain's age. Early press accounts of McCain's announcement of Palin as his running mate at a rally in Dayton, Ohio compared the McCain-Palin ticket to a father-daughter photo. Democrats can also use their money and time defining Palin, who is virtually unknown nationally.

By picking Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate, John McCain effectively squashed news of Barack Obama's acceptance speech in Denver. He also gave his Republican base a reason to get excited and once again engage in a campaign in which Democrats have so far proven much more enthusiastic than Republicans. But Democrats see avenues of attack and opportunities to blunt Republican arguments against Obama that have so far proven effective.

Whichever party's optimism proves more grounded in reality could determine whether Palin, her snow mobile-racing husband and five children will make the move from Juneau to Washington come January.

Reid Wilson is an associate editor and writer for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at

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