- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sen. John McCain’s growing popularity among women is fueling speculation that he will select a female running mate, ripening talk about conservative favorite Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, and former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Officer Carly Fiorina, one of his top economic advisers.

Political pundits, election strategists and even some Democrats say putting a dynamic woman on the Republican ballot would tip independents, especially the “security moms” who helped President Bush win re-election in 2004.

“If McCain picked a woman, it would certainly get the attention and perhaps votes of some Democrats and a number of independents who supported Hillary Clinton,” said Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh.

With Mr. McCain not a favorite of social and fiscal conservatives, prominent leaders of the party’s right flank say choosing a bona fide member of their class could re-energize the Republican base.

“Sarah Palin is a great choice,” said Grover Norquist, a Republican activist best known for his economic conservatism.

“She’s got it all, and is a remarkable leader who brings a number of good qualities to the table,” said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America.

Although Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are still considered the front-runners for the vice-presidential slot (with a growing hum about former Rep. Rob Portman of Ohio), there is a new buzz that Mr. McCain will make a “transformative” pick outside the mainstream, perhaps even cross party lines to choose Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Democrat turned independent.

While most insiders find that option unlikely, Newt Gingrich warns Mr. McCain not to pick “one more relatively boring normal mainstream Republican white guy.”

“This fall, there’s going to be a lot of energy surrounding the Obama campaign and we need to find ways to generate a substantial amount of energy around the McCain campaign, and an effective, dynamic different kind of vice-presidential nominee, I think, would make a difference,” the former House speaker said.

Mrs. Palin is “a mother of five, is a genuine Alaskan, is a hunter, is a dog sledder, is very much for drilling for oil, has a great reform reputation, took on big oil on behalf of the people of Alaska,” Mr. Gingrich said. “I think she would bring a level of excitement and uniqueness that people would have to stop and say, ‘Boy, this is kind of intriguing.’”

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama has been wowing audiences worldwide, and during the primaries his soaring rhetoric prompted reports of women swooning at his rallies. Mr. Obama enjoys massive support from women younger than 40, leading the Republican candidate by 13 points, according to the latest Fox News survey.

But Mr. McCain leads among women in their 40s by four percentage points and among women 50 and older by three points. While the Arizona Republican’s margins are slim, Democratic presidential candidates have traditionally led in those categories by 15 points or more, said former Clinton adviser Dick Morris.

“Long regarded as a maverick Republican, he attracts these swing voters and is ideally positioned to exploit the estrangement between older women and Barack Obama,” Mr. Morris wrote in a column on Wednesday.

There are 18 million women across the country who supported Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. Shortly before she dropped out of the Democratic race in June, nearly 30 percent of her supporters said they would shift to Mr. McCain before they would vote for the first-term senator from Illinois.

Women made up 54 percent of the electorate in 2004, when “security moms” turned out in droves to support Mr. Bush.

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