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Palin Doesn't Matter, Numbers Do

Palin Doesn't Matter, Numbers Do

By Bob Beckel - September 11, 2008

The Sarah Palin "boom" that has so traumatized Democrats and intimidated the press will have little if any impact on the presidential election. People don't vote for vice presidents, they vote for presidents. This race is about John McCain and Barack Obama not Annie Oakley from Wasilla, Alaska. It is also about turnout numbers and the electoral demographics in 2008 which overwhelm any impact Sarah Palin might have on the election outcome.

First the Palin "boom". It is the product of surprise (a short lived but powerful force in politics), an emotional outlet for the GOP Right, and post convention polls. In the intense coverage of politics by the ever expanding number of outlets for political information, what is new and surprising quickly becomes over exposed resulting in a short shelf life. The freshness goes away quickly. So it will be shortly for Ms. Palin. She has had the best week in this campaign she will have and the only direction now is down.

The large turnouts at McCain/Palin events this week are a result of an energized Right (which will vote Republican anyway) and say as much about the lack of enthusiasm on the Right for McCain before he picked Palin as it does about any shift in the electorate. As for post convention polls; they are the least predictive of the eventual outcome as any polls in a presidential election. Of course there was a "bounce" after 3 days of what amounted to an infomercial for McCain and a negative ad campaign against Obama. It will not last.

Despite the best efforts of the McCain campaign to control press access to Palin, they can hold back the press tide only so long. It is simply too big and prolific. McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis said on Fox News Sunday they will continue to limit press access until the media shows some "deference" to Palin. Deference is for dictators and monarchs not for junior governors of sparsely populated states like Alaska who expect to be second in line to the leader of the world's oldest Democracy.

When the press tide breaks over Palin what has been given little coverage will be widely disseminated:

* Instead of being a reform governor who hates federal "pork" it will become common knowledge that she has lobbied for and gotten $770 million dollars in pork projects making Alaska among the top three states per capita receiving government largess.

* Far from opposing the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" pork project, she supported it wholeheartedly only to oppose it when the project became a political bombshell (She kept the bridge money anyway for other Alaskan boondoggles).

* Palin is a right winger. She opposes abortion even in the case of rape, incest AND even if the health of the mother is in jeopardy. She favors shooting wolves from airplanes and has addressed her husband's Alaska Independence Movement affiliation which calls for a vote on Alaska separating from the United States.

And this is only what we know so far. As Barack Obama rightly said stories about Palin's family should be off limits. Besides a sense of propriety, raising her family issues only gives the McCain campaign more ammunition for press bashing. There is plenty of information on Palin unrelated to her family to drive the gender gap back to the Democrats and to ignite the Democratic base.

Now to numbers and demographics (those things that, unlike Palin, really matter in this election year). It has been widely reported that Democrats have a decided advantage over Republicans in voter self identification (from the low double digits to a 20% spread). What has received less attention is the number of newly registered voters in 2008. According to USA Today in the 28 states that register voters by party affiliation the Democrats have added 2 million new voters in 2008 while Republicans have lost 344,000.

Among the states with the largest number of new registrants are Ohio and Pennsylvania, two hotly contested states between Obama and Clinton (yet another reason to debunk the notion that a protracted nominating season hurt Obama). Add to this the vastly superior ongoing voter registration efforts by the Obama campaign which should result in an even greater Democrat to Republican registration advantage by November 4th. Given voter self identification numbers, even if Republicans get organized there are far fewer Republicans to register in 2008.

Demographics also favor the Democrats big time in 2008. It is generally conceded that Obama will win the youth vote by a healthy margin, and if primaries are indicators of fall turnout (historically they are) the youth vote will increase substantially over 2004. Millions of new voters have reached 18 since 2004. Some examples according to the US Census Bureau:

* In Ohio (which John Kerry lost by only 120,000 votes in 2004), 750,000 eligible voters between 18 and 22 who could not vote in 2004 can vote in 2008.

* In Colorado (Kerry lost by 99,000) 293,000 between 18 and 22 have become eligible to vote in 2008.

* In New Mexico (Kerry lost by 6000 votes) 145,000 kids have reached voting age.

* In Michigan 690,000 have become eligible.

* In Virginia 465,000 (Kerry lost by 260,000).

* In Florida alone over 1 million young people have reached voting age since 2004.

Then there are black voters. According to the Census Bureau there are 24 million eligible black voters in America of which 16 million (64%) are registered. In 2004 blacks cast 14 million votes or only 56% of the eligible black population. Blacks are registering to vote at historic rates in 2008 and turnout will soar above 2004 levels. Some examples:

* In Colorado there are 110000 eligible black voters. Only 50,000 voted in 2004.

* In Ohio there are 860,000 eligible black voters. Only 380,000 voted in 2004. (Remember Kerry lost by only 120,000 votes).

* In Virginia, 945,000 eligible black voters, 465,000 voted in 2004.

* Florida; 1,750,000 eligible blacks, 770,000 voted in 2004.

Not to get morbid but there is another statistic that is working against the Republicans. The Center for Disease Control estimates there have been, on average, 2.5 million deaths in America each year since 2005, the overwhelming number of whom were 65 years and older. Since it is generally conceded that John McCain will win the over 65 vote the actuarial tables present a problem. But you say millions have turned 65 since 2004. Correct, but among the people who were 61-64 in 2004 the vote split evenly between Kerry and Bush.

Put it all together and the conclusions are fairly obvious. Sarah Palin may help turnout marginally on the Right but mostly in states that will vote Republican like Alaska. In battleground states, voter registration, newly eligible young voters, eligible nonvoting blacks, and even death rates all favor Obama.

Excuse the pun but Palin's impact on the 2008 election pales in comparison to the Democrats' demographic advantages. In the end all the Palin "boom" you hear today will be a whimper come Election Day.

Bob Beckel managed Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign. He is a senior political analyst for the Fox News Channel and a columnist for USA Today. Beckel is the co-author with Cal Thomas of the book "Common Ground."

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