- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Sarah Palin may become the first vice-presidential nominee to win the White House for the top of the ticket.

As John McCain’s running mate, she almost certainly is shaping up to be the only politician in either party to be an important vote draw for a presidential ticket - and not just a do-no-harm appendage - since Republican vice-presidential candidate Teddy Roosevelt put ho-hum, top-of-the ticket William McKinley over the top in 1900.

That may have been the only time anyone had overturned the conventional wisdom that no one votes for vice president.

John F. Kennedy could not have won Texas and, therefore, the electoral vote in 1960 without Lyndon B. Johnson, according to popular wisdom. But that was a single-state effect.

Polls now confirm that Mrs. Palin’s appeal extends beyond regional, gender and even partisan bounds.

There are some objective and a lot of subjective reasons to make that case for Mrs. Palin being the ticket to the Oval Office for Mr. McCain, who was never the most popular politician in his own party or among its conservative base, which suddenly has come alive with enthusiasm over the elevation of Mrs. Palin.

Objectively, she certainly rates being called a sensation. More likely voters responded more positively to her nomination acceptance speech on Sept. 3 than they did to Mr. McCain’s the next night or to Barack Obama’s and Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s at the Democratic National Convention at the end of August.

Now, in mid-September, all evidence points to her building steam, not losing it.

“Where Palin may be having a real impact is with Republican enthusiasm,” Gallup poll senior editor Lydia Saad told The Washington Times. “We saw that skyrocket right after the convention, and this has benefited McCain in terms of likely voters.”

When Mr. McCain faked a pass to liberal independent Sen. Joe Lieberman for running mate and then handed the ball to Mrs. Palin - an evangelical well to the right of Mr. McCain on economic policy and no less a defense hawk - he bowled over the 168-member Republican National Committee, state party chairmen and elected national committeemen and women.

Enthralled with the choice of Mrs. Palin, the 140 or so members who initially did not back Mr. McCain for the nomination suddenly went from saying privately that at least he’s better than the alternative (Mr. Obama) to bursting with enthusiasm for the vice-presidential nominee (Mrs. Palin).

Religious conservatives, meeting privately in Minneapolis days before the Republican National Convention, similarly went from support for Mr. McCain based on a fear of an Obama-appointed federal judiciary to jumping for joy at the sudden opportunity to work overtime for the election of Mrs. Palin and her running mate. She, as far as they were concerned, is one of them.

Ditto for those conservative and Republican activists at the national convention whose special concerns focused on economic policy. While they tended to see Mr. McCain as iffy on taxes and oil drilling and a bit too green on the environment, they, too, embraced Sarah “Drill, Baby, Drill” Palin as one of them.

Most national defense advocates of the foreign intervention persuasion were always pleased with Mr. McCain but found their pleasure doubled with Mrs. Palin, who has an Israeli flag in her governor’s office and said the United States would be wrong to second-guess whatever Israel does against Iran.

Now, two weeks after the Republican convention, there seems little question that Mrs. Palin is making a difference.

Gallup Poll Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport told The Times that his polling shows that “10 percent of McCain voters volunteer that they are voting for him because of Sarah Palin. Only 1 percent of Obama supporters volunteer that they are voting for Obama because of Joe Biden.”

What’s most surprising is that Mrs. Palin, of all people, may have brought Mr. McCain the gift of a lifetime at exactly the right time - a surge in affection for him from independent voters, who hold the balance of power in almost every election.

“The six-point bounce in voter support [for Mr. McCain] spanning the Republican National Convention is largely explained by political independents shifting to him in fairly big numbers, from 40 percent pre-convention to 52 percent post-convention,” Ms. Saad said in reporting her firm’s daily tracking. “By contrast, Democrats’ support for McCain rose five percentage points over the GOP convention period, from 9 percent to 14 percent, while Republicans’ already-high support stayed about the same.”

What brings ear-to-ear smiles to Team McCain is that the surge of independents who now like the Arizona senator for president marks the first time since Gallup began tracking voters’ general-election preferences in March that the majority of independents have sided with Mr. McCain or Mr. Obama. Before that, Mr. McCain got no more than 48 percent of independents and Mr. Obama no more than 46 percent.

But nonpartisan analysts are cautious about the extent and durability of the “Palin effect.”

“We see no evidence that Palin is a draw, per se, among Republicans,” said Ms. Saad. “Republican identifiers were already supporting McCain to the tune of 90 percent prior to selecting Palin, and that figure has not changed.”

What has changed is the intensity of that support - more Republicans say they intend to talk up the ticket and drag friends and neighbors to the polls on Nov. 4 than was the case when the prospect was Mr. McCain and an unnamed running mate. And none of those named on the so-called shortlist elicited such widespread enthusiasm as Mrs. Palin has among men and women, religious and not-so-religious, in the Republican ranks.

“McCain has picked up some support from independents and conservative Democrats in the past week or so - disproportionately men,” Ms. Saad said. “That bump occurred toward the tail end of the GOP convention, so it wasn’t an immediate result of Palin being selected.”

Ms. Saad thinks the bump could have been a reaction to the Palin speech or to Mr. McCain’s speech. “We just don’t know, but I think it’s at least possible that the retelling of his POW story may have been the draw for the above-stated demographics,” she said.

For now, one thing is true beyond speculation: The Palin effect has turned around the cartoons, if not the tables.

“A Jeff McNelly cartoon from back in 1988 had an elephant holding a sign that had George H.W. Bush in big letters and Dan Quayle in little letters,” recalls political analyst Merrill Matthews. “A donkey was holding a sign with Michael Dukakis in little letters and Lloyd Bentsen in big letters. That’s kind of where we are right now, only with the parties reversed.”