Thursday, September 04, 2008

Sure, But Will It Play With Independents And Swing Voters?

The mainstream media have been falling all over themselves to praise Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin's speech to the RNC last night.

Mike Allen of the Politico called the speech a "grand slam." John Harris and Jim VandeHei of the Politico wrote that

in the space of one 36-minute speech by Palin, McCain proved that his choice was not a lapse into temporary (or even permanent) insanity. The speech’s political significance goes far beyond the fact that Palin showed herself capable of delivering a spirited reading of words that other people wrote.

Just as Barack Obama’s 2004 convention speech transformed his career, Palin’s speech has the potential to transform the dynamic of this race.

Wow - a grand slam, a game changer!!! Must have been a helluva speech this woman gave!!!

And it absolutely was.

Governor Palin attacked Obama as ineffectual, silly, and inexperienced at leading anything other than his little league team. She repeatedly mocked him as a "community organizer" with a tone that made Obama sound effete (apparently real men are only supposed to advocate for oil companies or the hedge fund industry, I guess.)

Although she did manage to talk a little bit about herself and her family, the overall tone of her speech was scathing (though with a smile) and derisive of her opponents. James Fallows wrote that

The speech was surprisingly negative and mocking. You can see why Rush Limbaugh has been such a fan of hers: if these words were delivered by someone older, less attractive, and male, they could have come straight from a Limbaugh radio monologue.

Now this mocking tone will certainly make the base happy (and it has - just turn on any of the cable networks today to see the smiley faces on the previously depressed Peggy Noonans and ) and her extreme positions on abortion, sex education, and gay rights will no doubt stoke formerly lukewarm evangelicals to enthusiastically come out in droves for the McCain/Palin ticket.

But it just won't work with independents, undecideds or those infamous Hillary supporters who are having trouble supporting Obama.

How do I know?

Because there were three focus groups that were held last night during the Palin speech and in all three independents and undecideds were turned off by Palin's mocking tone, sharp attacks and lack of policy specifics.

Here is the first:

In two different focus groups of Clinton-supporting Nevada women -- married and unmarried -- conducted immediately after Gov. Sarah Palin's Wednesday night speech to the Republican National Convention, a few common reactions quickly took shape.

First, women in both groups were impressed with Palin's speaking ability and poise. But they were hardly convinced that she was qualified to be vice president, or that she truly represented the "change" they were looking for, especially in light of what was deemed an overly harsh "sarcasm" pervading her address.


In the "married" group, when one attendee kicked off the discussion by saying "she's a good speaker, and a crowd pleaser," the rest of the room articulated their agreement. "I didn't expect to be as impressed as I was," said another respondent. But then another woman added: "Once she started mudslinging, I thought, it's the same old crap as other politicians. McCain used her to get the women's vote. And she's using McCain."

"Thank you," another woman responded. "That really upset me; there was no need for that. It was snippy."

The unmarried group also voiced similar objections to the harsh, partisan edge of Palin's remarks. "I'm not impressed with her at all as a person," one said, citing her "finger pointing" and general sarcasm after the group had generally agreed that she was a talented public speaker.

The second focus group round-up, courtesy Of Taegan Goddard:

The Detroit Free Press put together a panel of voters to listen to last night's Republican convention speeches and, much as I predicted last night, the independents were universally negative on Palin. In fact, they were more negative than the Democratic voters. The speech was clearly designed to help close the "enthusiasm gap" that has dogged the McCain campaign all summer.

Now the third focus group:

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (D) had focus groups of married and unmarried women watch Gov. Sarah Palin's speech at the Republican convention last night.

Key findings:

* While some unmarried women moved toward the Republican ticket, an equal number moved against them. There was little change among married women.
* Most women said an overly harsh "sarcasm" pervaded her speech.
* On a scale of 0 to 100, Palin improved her favorability scale roughly 10 points among both married and unmarried women.
* Palin's recitation of her experience and accomplishment failed to answer, particularly for unmarried women, whether she was ready to be vice president.

Perhaps McCain can win in 2008 by running a Rovian political campaign that appeals to the already converted, but I don't think so. In poll after poll that I have seen over the last few years, there are more self-identified Democrats than Republicans these days and the intensity of Obama supporters far exceeds the intensity of McCain supporters.

It's going to be an ugly political season (so much for McCain's promise to run a clean campaign), but I seriously doubt Governor Palin's mockery is going to win over too many swing voters, undecideds or independents.

But it sure will make the "Drill Baby Drill" crowd happy.

UPDATE: Oops - turns out GOP strategist and former McCain aide Mike Murphy agrees with my take on the Palin nomination:

Republican political consultant Mike Murphy finds himself lonely among his fellow GOPers since he doesn't think Gov. Sarah Palin was a good choice as Sen. John McCain's running mate.

"I think she'll ultimately be a polarizer. After last night's smash, Republicans are in deep love. Nothing thrills 'em like a good 'us vs. them' speech. But I'd guess that most Democrats had the opposite reaction. In a year where the Democrat generic numbers are 10+ points better than the Republican, I don't like the math of a strategy that just polarized the election along party base lines. Among the vital sliver of voters in the middle, I think Palin's rock solid social conservatism will be a turn off. And while voters may value vision over experience, Palin's inexperience is a weakness, denying McCain an argument that has been helping him against Obama."

But after last night's speech, it looks like Murphy is about the only GOPer who feels Palin isn't going to help the ticket.
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