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Palin Energized Ohio and New Hampshire Voters, Both For and Against

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Ed O'Keefe takes a look at what Democrats and Republicans of Lake County, Ohio, did in the final weekend of campaigning to get out the vote. (Video by Ed O'Keefe /

By Alec MacGillis
Talking to voters in Ohio and New Hampshire over the past two weeks, it was hard not to concluded that a race that for most of its duration was about Barack Obama, John McCain and Hillary Clinton wound up, during its final leg, being to a great degree about Sarah Palin.

It is hard to overstate how much voters' opinions of Palin have shaped their views on the presidential contest, pushing voters in both directions. In Warren County, Ohio, a growing exurb between Cincinnati and Dayton where Obama is trying to cut into the huge margins Republican racked up in past elections, John Frame described her impact on his thinking during an interview at a Bob Evans restaurant.

Frame, 45, is pretty much the epitome of the swing voter. He's voted for, among others: Reagan, Clinton (the first time), Dole and Gore. He is a native of Georgia and worked for Northwest Airlines in Detroit before being laid off and going to law school. He moved to Ohio with his wife, a teacher, for a job as a researcher at Lexis-Nexis while he studies for the bar.

As Frame sees it, he is exactly the kind of independent-minded voter that John McCain should have a good chance of winning over. "Ideally, we should be the middle of the road audience McCain should be fighting for. The real question is, what happened to that?" he said.

Frame had been intrigued by Obama since reading "The Audacity of Hope" last year, holding out hope that Obama might be "a different kind of Democrat." He saw in Obama's grassroots insurgency against Clinton echoes of the insurrections of his Scots-Irish ancestors against the British. "It's like the battle of Bannockburn. It's a bottom up thing. The tribes got their power from uniting with the next tribe rather than giving allegiance to some king," he said.

But for all his interest in Obama, Frame was not sure how vigorously he'd be able to support him once it became clear that McCain would be the GOP nominee. That is, until McCain picked Palin.

To Frame and his wife, that selection represented everything that had come to bother him about the Republican Party. "When the party told him, you gotta pick Palin, both of us said, we gotta get out and work," he said. "It's not that she's a novice, it's that she doesn't know what she doesn't know. The problem with the Republican brand is that it's got people running the show [who] don't know what they don't know. I'm an educated American and I've made it part of my duty to stay informed, and they haven't."

He added: "I don't know everything about the Bush Doctrine. But I'm not running for vice president. I would hope that when Charlie Gibson asks about it, someone who's a conservative could say, 'You know, I don't believe in preemptive strikes because of A, B, C.' It's not that she's a novice, because so is Barack Obama. But at least he's got the wherewithal that if he doesn't know exactly what he needs to, he'll tell you, 'I'm going to take a step back and get some input from people and go forward.' It's that she doesn't know what she doesn't know and that's scary."

Since the Palin pick, Frame and his wife have been volunteering as much as they can for Obama, even as they still plan to vote for their Republican congressman. Polls taken in the past few weeks suggest their reaction to Palin is not unrepresentative, as her standing has dropped sharply among independent voters.

But here's the thing. While the Palin pick appears to have hurt McCain with swing voters, in Ohio it was also unclear just who would have been working for his campaign if he had picked one of the more moderate Republicans he was also considering.

Go into a McCain campaign office in southern or western Ohio and you are likely to find far more effusive praise for Palin than McCain from volunteers. Many of the Palin backers are evangelical Christians and antiabortion activists, and they make clear that they might not have been as devoted to campaign work -- or even done any at all -- were Palin not on the ticket.

Take Carol Myers, 65, who moved three years ago from Alabama to Chillicothe, an hour south of Columbus, to care for her grandchildren. She is ambivalent about McCain. Asked for her thoughts on the senator from Arizona, she said, "How much time do I have to think about that?"

But she sees Palin as someone who could "help put God back in our country" and as someone who worked her way from the very bottom rung of politics: "She was a mother who said, 'Something is going on in my city and I don't like it and I'm going to take a stand,'" she said. "I think she can make a contribution to our country if we let her. She's smart and not easily intimidated. She's someone who is willing to take chances on what they know is right. There are people like her who have seen the light and walked toward and it, while others saw it later. That's a gift -- instead of just making a speech and making people want something and not being able to deliver."

When Myers saw Palin being scrutinized by the national media and the opposition after her selection -- "the Democrats sent all those attorneys up there" -- she decided to get involved, and is now the most active volunteer in the Chillicothe McCain-Palin office. "I talked to a friend about how nothing was being done to protect her, and we had to take a stand," she said.

Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, where the evangelical community is smaller than in Ohio, whatever advantage McCain gained from the Palin selection has failed to balance out the loss of independent support she helped spur.

The McCain campaign had hoped that Palin could connect in states like New Hampshire with other "hockey moms," of which the Granite State has plenty. But Robert Lang, a political demographer at Virginia Tech's Metropolitan Institute, has a provocative theory for why Palin has not gone over as well as the McCain camp had hoped in places like New Hampshire.

Lang suggests that McCain and his strategists made a key miscalculation: confusing the American heartland with the frontier. They had hoped that Palin would connect with suburban moms everywhere, from Missouri to Minnesota to Virginia. But what they didn't take into account, Lang argues, is that as strong as America's frontier mythology is, there is a big difference these days between Palin's Alaska, which retains far more of a true frontier mentality, and, say, suburban Denver or Phoenix. Even with its Walmart and Lowe's, Wasilla is "culturally alien" to the experience of most suburban voters, Lang argues. "If she was some mom who came out of Phoenix and wasn't opposed to guns, that would be one thing -- as long as she didn't fire them so often herself," he said. "There's a difference between a place like Phoenix and a place called the Last Frontier. It's a cataclysmic mistake."

The most effective 527 ad of the 2008 cycle, he said, was one linking Palin to the aerial hunting of wolves, "wolves that look like cute Huskies." An ad like that was very disconcerting for many swing voters, Lang said. "These voters are people who take their dogs to the dog park, and love them more than their own children," Lang said.

Consider: when Palin campaigned in New Hampshire late last month, she tried to bond with a crowd in Dover by declaring, "I know that we can count on the good people of New Hampshire because you're a lot like the people of Alaska. We all love good moose hunting, I know that."

But New Hampshire has turned increasingly into a suburban and exurban outpost of the Boston megalopolis, and almost no one hunts moose there. Indeed, the state gives out only about 500 moose-hunting permits each year. Polls suggest the Palin pick has exacted a particularly big price in the Granite State, where McCain has slipped considerably since August.

Or, as 63-year-old Lois Andrews -- a political independent and former teacher turned corporate trainer from the state's Seacoast region, who is planning to vote for Obama -- put it, "When Palin came on the scene, I thought McCain had lost his mind."

By Web Politics Editor  |  November 3, 2008; 7:12 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama , John McCain , Sarah Palin , analysis  
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Next: Obama's Final Swing: North Carolina


Huckabee voted for Obama?

Report of some states that are already decided because of early voting.

Posted by: pastor123 | November 4, 2008 9:10 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: thecannula | November 3, 2008 10:04 PM | Report abuse

November 3rd, 2008 12:39 PM Eastern
I’ll Say It Again, This Election Will Be Closer Than They Think.

Polls understandably tempt journalists to suggest the race has been “clinched” by Senator Obama (as John King did recently did on CNN). — I hope such predictions won’t affect anyone’s interest in voting.

Here are my reasons for believing the race will be closer than these polls indicate:

1) According to varied professional sources with whom I have spoken, there exists a proportionally high number of potential voters who are refusing to be polled or express their opinion publicly. In a historic, high-octane race like 2008, I believe there are more reasons for a McCain supporter to stay silent than for an Obama supporter. It is understandable to imagine McCain supporters fearing labels such as “racist,” “homophobe,” “single-issue-voter,” “warmonger,” or “against change,” even if the voter is none of these.

2) Similarly, pollsters have reported higher than usual numbers of undecided voters or voters still capable of changing their minds. People know Senator McCain. Do they know Senator Obama well enough to break for him this late in the game?

3) Most importantly, in 2004, pollsters were caught by surprise by the amount of voters who left the polls saying “social issues” were most influential in determining their vote. In 2008, the media has been mostly silent on these causes, focusing instead on the economy and Iraq. This focus ignores an important reality. The “Value Voters” block of mostly Evangelicals and a good percentage of conservative Catholics and others, may indeed be wrapped up in these urgent headlines, but there is no convincing data to suggest they have inverted their voting priorities, turning away from abortion, traditional marriage, limited government, etc. If Senator Kerry’s policy proposals were enough to get this voting block to the booth, Senator Obama’s policies should bring them out in droves.

So there you have my November 3rd take.

And if I’m right and the vote is close in 2008, when the Democratic Party has every political reason to wipe out the Republicans, it will mean our country rejects major elements of Senator Obama’s plan to revolutionize important American values, beginning with the right to life. Then the Democratic Party may see the benefit of freeing itself from the stranglehold of the culture of death, forced upon it by extreme, and extremely powerful, interest groups. What a relief it would be for “Values Voters” to have a viable alternative to the very imperfect Republican Party.

And what is your November 3rd prediction?

God bless,

Father Jonathan

Posted by: thecannula | November 3, 2008 10:00 PM | Report abuse

Is McCain ACTUALLY on the Campaign Trail Right now???

I found this picture of him in a HOSPITAL online earlier, it was up on some news site, then all of the sudden I couldn't find it again...I managed to Save it to my Photobucket Account...Does anyone know if this is REAL?

Posted by: thelocke | November 3, 2008 7:45 PM | Report abuse

That is exactly the problem with the Republicans who picked Palin. They see women as one-dimensional- Palin is a suburban mom so suburban moms will want to vote for her. Well, this suburban mom has a graduate degree, reads books, magazines and newspapers, knows religion belongs in churches, synagogues, mosques and temples- not in government- and has visted 5 continents. Why would I want an badly educated, racist, uninformed person of either sex to have a major place in government?

Posted by: silverspring25 | November 3, 2008 7:20 PM | Report abuse

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