Feature

McCain and Palin: Why the Democrats are so worried

All of a sudden, Democrats “are quaking in their boots,” said Gary Kamiya in Salon.com.

All of a sudden, Democrats “are quaking in their boots,” said Gary Kamiya in Salon.com. For months, John McCain, the GOP’s presidential nominee, has struggled to overcome Barack Obama’s seductive image as the face of a new, post-partisan politics. Now, McCain has given his party a charismatic new face of its own. His selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate “has fired up social conservatives, restarted the culture wars so beloved by Republicans, and shifted the election.” With the tough-talking, gun-toting hockey mom leading the way, the Republican ticket has stolen Obama’s spotlight, and recast itself as a pair of renegade reformers who will “clean up Washington.”

The turnaround in the polls has been stunning, said Peter Wallsten and Janet Hook in the Los Angeles Times. A new Gallup poll of likely voters puts McCain 10 points ahead of Obama—a post-convention “bounce” of 16 points. In the “crucial” category of white women, a Wall Street Journal/ABC survey shows McCain winning 52 percent to 41 percent, largely thanks to these voters’ enthusiasm for Palin, who gave an electrifying speech at the Republican convention. As one worried Democratic operative put it, “The freshness, newness, and aura around Barack have been eclipsed. The campaign has been knocked off its stride.” For the Democrats, the signs are “ominous,” said Jack Kelly in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Palin is no flash in the pan; the conservative base sees her as “Ronald Reagan in a dress,” and a “younger, prettier Margaret Thatcher.” A bona fide small-town, mainstream American, Palin stands in sharp contrast to Obama, who not long ago was telling acolytes in San Francisco that rural Americans “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” He and Joe Biden can pretend to speak for voters who value family, own guns, and believe in God, but Palin is the real deal—and voters know it.  Is that what this election is about—guns and God? asked Katrina Vanden Heuvel in The Nation. “This election should be about the big issues of our time—ending a disastrous war, restoring America’s reputation, and building an economy that works.” But McCain can’t win if he allows the Democrats to frame the election in these terms. So he and the Republicans are trying to distract voters from the GOP’s sorry record over the past eight years by whipping up a culture war against the so-called liberal elite. To overcome this shameless strategy, said Paul Krugman in The New York Times, Obama has to make a convincing case that hardworking Americans will fare much better in a nation governed by Democrats. But it will be a tough sell. From the time of Richard Nixon, who perfected “the politics of resentment,” Republicans have won a lot of elections by urging voters to “stick it to an elite that thinks it’s better than you.” Obama is particularly vulnerable to that tactic, because working-class voters are put off by the very qualities that thrill his supporters—his intrinsic coolness, his “high-flown eloquence,” his star power. “Resentment, no matter how contrived, is a powerful force.”

Obama is now in a box, said Kirsten Powers in the New York Post. If he and Biden attack Palin, millions of women and blue-collar voters will feel as if the Democrats are attacking them. So for the next 50 days, Obama has to pray that Palin stumbles on her own. Meanwhile, he has to persuade working-class voters in Michigan, Ohio, Florida, and the other swing states that “he and his party don’t hold them in contempt. The clock is ticking.”

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