More than a Woman

By Jack Atherton- Email

Sarah Palin is a conservative. That actually trumps the fact that she is a woman, for a simple reason: This election will be about turnout. In 2004, John Kerry won more votes than any Democrat in history. But George W. Bush won even more. For that he had places like Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky to thank - conservative bastions targeted by his architect, Karl Rove.

Barack Obama seems on course to top Bush's turnout. He is counting on historic numbers of young people, unmarried women, Hispanics and, especially, African Americans. And he could also count on some of the GOP's conservative base staying home. Until now.

John McCain is a maverick, not a conservative. The right reveres his hawkishness on the war and wasteful federal spending. But for years McCain endeared himself to the left by opposing across-the-board tax cuts, border enforcement, domestic oil drilling, filibuster-free votes on judges, and a host of other conservative causes. McCain has since reversed course on a lot of these issues. But conservatives remained wary, and depressed whenever he continued backing Democratic proposals -- like cap-and-trade, that would give Washington the power to manage all carbon emissions.

Obama and Biden are both ranked (by the non-partisan National Journal, among others) as two of the most liberal senators. Hillary Clinton believes Obama's crucial caucus victories were secured by Move On and other leftist groups that preferred his consistent anti-war stance to her (premature) move toward the center.

In choosing a running mate, McCain could have tried consolidating his centrist image.   Advisors and pundits who think the center is where this election will be won touted everyone from Minnesota's moderate governor Tim Pawlenty to Connecticut's independent Senator Joe Lieberman.

Instead, McCain went right. Sarah Palin is conservative. And not just in her politics. McCain announced her selection on Sarah and Todd Palin's 20th wedding anniversary. Her husband is an oil production operator and commercial fisherman; Sarah helped him run the fishery. She's the mother of five children. Her oldest son volunteered to serve in Iraq. Her youngest was born last April with Down Syndrome; knowing he would be, Palin refused to abort her pregnancy.

As a small-town mayor, president of the Alaska Conference of Mayors, and chair of Alaska's Oil and Gas Commission, Sarah Palin made her name by fighting corruption. Not the other party's. Palin went after the most powerful incumbents in her own party -- and beat them.

Though she has served as governor for less than two years, Palin's cut taxes - but raised them on oil companies while pushing further oil exploration. She's cut spending and refused pork barrel projects like the notorious "Bridge to Nowhere."  She's crusaded against abortion and same sex marriage. And her approval ratings have topped 80%.

Liberals say Governor Palin has a thin record of accomplishment and little experience - especially in foreign affairs. Conservatives say Barack Obama has no record of accomplishment -- in foreign or domestic affairs. Some liberals say that too. A McCain ad includes Hillary Clinton claiming, "Senator McCain will bring a lifetime of experience to the campaign; I will bring a lifetime of experience; and Senator Obama will bring a speech that he gave in 2002."

One last thing: Sarah Palin is a woman. And of course that's the key reason that - having made the crucial decision to go with a true conservative -- McCain picked her. His base will have the same thrill making history as liberals will if Obama is elected.

But how much will having a woman on the ticket help McCain? A colleague just told me how his wife reacted to the selection: "What does McCain think we are, stupid? I'm not going to vote for someone who opposes everything I believe in just because she's a woman!" And that seems to be a widespread reaction, at least among women who wouldn't vote for McCain if he chose Gloria Steinem.

Remember though that Hillary's most ardent supporters are older, married white women. And many of them are socially conservative. They and the Reagan Democrat men who nearly gave Clinton the nomination may take quite a liking to Governor Palin.  And with a now wildly enthusiastic conservative base, it won't take many of Hillary's voters to make Sarah Palin the first female Vice President of the United States.