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More local reaction to Gov. Sarah Palin (expanded Web version)

By Aaron Kinney
Wednesday, September 10th, 2008 at 4:16 pm in 2008 Presidental Race, Aaron Kinney, Anna Eshoo, Barack Obama, Democratic Party, Greg Conlon, Political Campaigns, Republican Party, San Mateo County.

Here’s a longer, more in-depth version of Saturday’s print version of the Insider.

For those who follow politics closely, it feels like a long, long time has passed since Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin stepped onto the national stage Aug. 29 as Sen. John McCain’s running mate.

After several days of negative media attention, the storm dissipated last Wednesday when she gave a sharp, snarky and smoothly delivered speech that electrified the party faithful at the Republican National Convention, dispelling some doubts about her addition to the ticket.

The long-term effects of her entry into the race remain unclear. Will the shine of her speech fade as voters learn more about her history in Alaska, from Troopergate to tax hikes? Will McCain’s fourth-quarter substitution of family values for national security boost or destroy his chance for an upset? (The answer so far is: boost.)

Local Republican Greg Conlon, who is running for a House seat against Jackie Speier, was inside St. Paul, Minn.’s Xcel Energy Center Sept. 3 when Wasilla Mooseburger breathed life into what had been a low-wattage convention. It was “spontaneous combustion when Palin hit the floor,” Conlon recalled on Friday.

“I just thought that she’s everything that we could possibly want in a vice president,” said Conlon. “She’s got so much energy and excitement that she’s going to motivate the troops at all levels.”

As for Palin’s utter lack of foreign policy experience, Conlin said that, if anything were to happen to McCain, who is 72, Palin will be surrounded by experienced advisors.

Unfortunately, some of McCain’s advisers are even more hawkish and trigger-happy than the current president’s, so the Insider doesn’t consider that a comforting prospect.

Conlon said McCain’s speech last Thursday was moving. Did the McCain campaign lay it on a bit thick with the multiple recountings of the senator’s prisoner-of-war experience? Conlon doesn’t think so, because it served to illustrate his propensity to “put country first.”

“He’s demonstrated many times that he’s his own man,” Conlon said, “and he came across (Thursday) as his own man and willing to do what he thinks is right for the country at all costs to himself.”

Democrats have argued that McCain’s selection of Palin actually subordinates the interests of the country to his own political interests.

We asked Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, who in the Aug. 30 edition of the Insider greeted the Palin announcement with bafflement and disdain, for her take.

“She was chosen to nail down the right-wing base of the Republican Party, which John McCain was absolutely desperate for, and that he has done,” Eshoo said Friday.

“Another goal was to change the narrative in the campaign,” Eshoo continued, “from talking about the war and the economy to abortion and the cultural issues of the base of the Republican Party.”

Eshoo said she expects the McCain campaign to send Palin out “to appeal to non-college grads, blue-collar people, because that’s who she appeals to.”

Though it’s clear now that Palin’s political skills should not be underestimated, Eshoo appears confident that a McCain-Palin ticket will not be able to woo enough independent voters to win in November.

“I believe that Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States,” Eshoo said. “In my view it’s a matter of the margin.”

“I still believe that people do not vote for No. 2 on the ticket, they vote for No. 1,” she added.

(The Insider does not currently share Eshoo’s optimism about the race. The fake scandal about pigs and lipstick that’s dominated cable news broadcasts the last couple days has us concerned about the McCain campaign’s ability to drive news coverage with bogus stories and the Obama campaign’s seeming inability to take the initiative.)

Eshoo noted that McCain’s acceptance speech lacked policy specifics. He didn’t lay out a plan for Iraq, even though the war had been, until recently, the central focus of his campaign.

McCain’s speech, she noted dryly, will not be “quoted by historians.”

“He just said, ‘Here I am, a war hero, and I served my country well,'” Eshoo said.

The race will come down to slogans versus substance, Eshoo said, and Democrats will be wise to focus heavily on the issues, particularly the economy, since McCain and Palin seem to have ceded that territory.

Local Democratic insider Joe Cotchett isn’t taking the McCain-Palin ticket lightly. And he figures Palin will be used to target voters in rural parts of key swing states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Florida.

Rather than ignore Palin, as some have suggested, Cotchett thinks Obama is right to go after her on policy grounds, including her false claim about opposing the “Bridge to Nowhere.”

Cotchett said he believes the outcome of the presidential campaign will be determined by a simple equation. In one hand place the number of white people who, even if they don’t hold racist views, can’t bring themselves to vote for a black man, whether or not they’d admit it to pollsters or even themselves. (See the Bradley effect.) In the other hand put the number of new voters that the Obama campaign mobilizes and registers to vote.

If the number in the first hand is more than the second, McCain wins. If the number in the second hand is higher than the first, Obama wins.

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