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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Rhett Butler Had a Way with Words

September 2, 2008

Men easily relate to the assertion Rhett Butler made in Margaret Mitchell’s classic Gone With the Wind when he said of the strong-willed and spirited Scarlett O’Hara "what a woman" after realizing she was very much like himself.

Many voters thought much the same thing after being introduced to John McCain’s vice presidential running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. She is self-assured and a self-described ‘hockey mom’ -- at ease and direct in talking about hunting, fishing, and snowmobiling as well as public policy.

Political skeptics need to remember that voters decide who they like based on a variety of considerations – and it’s not always the big issues. This is a real woman who knows who she is and isn’t trying to impress anyone about it. She is confident and refreshing and someone with a life – and that’s been missing from the other national candidates this year.

There is a legitimate question of her readiness to be President but it would be wrong to sell her short on experience. She’s held public office for 13 years – including two years as Governor of her state. This is more experience than several past presidential and vice presidential candidates have had – several of whom never held public office and their qualifications were not brought into question.

The Obama campaign made an initial mistake by criticizing her level of experience and they immediately realized it was wrong to do so. Obama himself reversed course by issuing a separate statement retracting the attack and welcoming her to the race. Smart move. Yet there are reports that the Obama campaign "has no immediate plans to attack her qualifications but may do so in the future." This, too, would be a mistake.

Just hours earlier 40 million people watched as Barrack Obama and Delaware Senator Joe Biden accepted their party’s nomination in an historic gathering at the National Democratic Convention in Denver. Obama outlined his vision for America in an emotional speech in front of 80,000 supporters at Invesco Field.

Obama’s selection of Biden as his running mate was a safe pick, and it did shore up Obama’s resume in the area of foreign affairs where some voters are wary of his inexperience. However, Biden is not the Washington change agent that Obama has been promising and he did vote in favor of the Iraq War.

Biden is a tireless campaigner and will appeal to swing voters – particularly in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio – where he has spent a great deal of time campaigning in his previous runs for the presidency. He also has a compelling personal life story that voters will find attractive.

But Republicans were relieved that Obama did not pick Hilliary Clinton because most believed her selection as vice president might have closed the door on McCain’s chances.

McCain’s selection of Palin was a bold move, and Democrats are concerned that she may appeal to women voters and Reagan Democrats in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia, and Virginia. She and her husband are card-carrying union members, and as a mother of five kids she might win over suburban women who will identify with her ability to balance career and family.

The political truth is that McCain was not breaking through the national polls – and while he consistently trailed Obama by just a few points – he needed to change the dynamics of the race if he had any hopes of winning in November. McCain also knows the country is hungry for something different in the White House and with Palin on his ticket he can legitimately talk about bringing change to Washington, too.

Palin is the kind of accomplished populist that voters like – someone who cuts through the illogic of business-as-usual politics to get things done. She is a maverick and a reform-minded Governor who took on the leadership of her own party and won. Only time will tell whether she will be fully embraced by the voting public – but for now she brings excitement and anticipation to the campaign.

Political analysts who have doubts about McCain’s selection might well remember that Governor Palin is the type of self-assured, independent, and confident woman that many voters will find easy to like.

So would Rhett Butler.