Palin to Debate as Edge Wanes Among `Wal-Mart’ Moms (Update1)
By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan
Oct. 1 (Bloomberg) — Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin achieved the objective of energizing the party’s evangelical and social-conservative base. The other goal, winning over women voters, is fizzling.
From her hairstyle and her one-liners to her teenage daughter’s pregnancy and her work-family balance, Palin’s life has been dissected by the media, in coffee shops and at office water coolers since she was nominated as John McCain‘s running mate last month.
Yet the “Palin Effect” — the notion that the 44-year-old Alaska governor would lure women, especially supporters of Hillary Clinton — so far hasn’t been borne out in the reaction of voters or polls. Following television interviews during which she stumbled, the McCain camp is counting on her debate with Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden tomorrow night to rehabilitate her image.
“Nothing whatsoever in the polling indicates women have crossed over to support the Republican ticket as a result of anything, including Sarah Palin,” said Mandel, a founder of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers.
In a Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times national poll taken Sept. 19-22, 49 percent of women said they planned to vote for the Democratic ticket led by Barack Obama; 40 percent picked McCain and Palin. In addition, fewer women than men said they were more likely to vote Republican because of her presence on the ticket, and a plurality of female voters said she was unqualified to be president; men were evenly split.
Among women who supported New York Senator Clinton in the Democratic primaries, about a third said the Palin pick made it less likely they would vote Republican, and almost four in 10 said it made no difference, the poll showed. Half of female Clinton supporters said Palin isn’t qualified to be president.
The survey is consistent with past voting patterns. In every election since a “gender gap” was quantified in 1980, women have voted for Democratic presidential candidates more than men have, by an average of almost 8 percentage points.
Palin’s record of opposition to abortion and her pro-family image have appeased the evangelical and social conservatives who form the Republican Party’s core voters and were mistrustful of McCain. Yet she hasn’t been able to hold on to an early bounce with another important constituency: older, non-college-educated white females, many of whom have defected to the Democrats over the last few weeks, said Republican pollster Ed Goeas.
“Many `Wal-Mart suburban moms’ who moved to McCain are moving back to Obama,” Goeas said.
Palin’s candidacy, like that of Clinton, 60, has spurred satire and some inappropriate commentary. Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner said he wanted Palin to pose nude if she loses the election; CNBC host Donny Deutsch said on air he wanted her “laying next to me in bed.” Her fumbles in recent television interviews were parodied by comedian Tina Fey in two consecutive skits on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”
Even some conservatives have suggested she lacks experience. Columnist Kathleen Parker, in an article for the National Review Online titled “She’s Out of Her League,” urged Palin to bow out. “Do it for your country,” Parker wrote.
Juggling Career, Family
Still, many Republicans, who for years railed against Clinton for supposedly prioritizing her career and political ambitions over family, hailed Palin for juggling a career while raising five children, including an infant with Down syndrome. And the McCain campaign has condemned the criticism of her scant national experience as sexist.
As women voters learn more about Palin’s record — from the policy while she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, of charging rape victims for collecting specimens for police evidence, to her lack of fluency on topics such as foreign affairs and the financial crisis — her negative ratings have risen.
“The whole notion that she was brought to the ticket to attract Hillary supporters is an embarrassment and insult to Hillary supporters,” said Jane Gellman, 59, a retired physical education teacher in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who plans to vote for Obama. “The fundamental things Hillary supports are diametrically opposed by Palin.”
Patricia McGrath, 63, a YMCA manager in Asheboro, North Carolina, said she voted for Clinton as the “least worrisome candidate” in the Democratic primary, and will vote for Arizona Senator McCain in November because she agrees with him on issues, not because of his choice of running mate.
Linda Basch, president of the New York-based National Council for Research on Women, said the attention generated by Palin “indicates how strongly women want to see images of themselves in the public sphere.”
Yet Basch said if Palin is “being put forth as the women’s candidate,” it is legitimate to ask how she would represent women, who by wide margins favor abortion rights, government funding for day care and children’s health insurance and equal- pay legislation, which McCain and Palin haven’t supported.
The St. Louis debate with Delaware Senator Biden this week will be Palin’s chance to convince women voters she will champion their issues, women’s advocates said.
“Her record raises questions,” Basch said. “I think women in the country will be watching closely to see what stances she takes.”