RICHMOND | Virginia’s Republican National Convention delegates hoped one of their own, Rep. Eric Cantor, might be Sen. John McCain‘s vice presidential running mate.
Sure, it was a long shot, but the prospect was tantalizing nonetheless.
Then came word Friday that Mr. McCain had chosen Sarah Palin, a conservative, equally unknown 44-year-old mother of five who is governor of Alaska when she’s not hunting moose or fishing.
The response among Virginia Republicans?
“Palin rocks!” raved Scott Lingamfelter, a conservative House of Delegates member from Prince William who is on the St. Paul, Minn., convention’s platform committee.
“Fantastic on so many levels,” gushed longtime Roanoke Republican activist and veteran conventioneer Trixie Averill.
Mrs. Palin, a former beauty queen who just a few years ago was mayor of a small Alaska town, connects well with conservatives, particularly in rural areas, Republicans said Friday.
In Virginia, Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, is making a serious play for those states where Republicans once dominated - before Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine loosened the Republican Party’s grip with consecutive successful races for governor since 2001.
Having the governor of a state as vast and rural as Alaska who is avid about hunting, fishing and gun rights and is a National Rifle Association member doesn’t hurt the Republican Party, said David “Mudcat” Saunders, a longtime Democratic strategist whose specialty is outreach to rural and working-class voters.
“It helps clean John McCain up on guns,” Mr. Saunders said. “When I think of anti-gun, I think of John McCain.”
Mrs. Palin is also as far removed from an unpopular Republican White House as is geographically possible, Mr. Saunders said. “So it’s a good way for (Mr. McCain) to run away from the problems in his own party.”
Jerry W. Kilgore, an unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor in 2005 and a Virginia convention delegate this year, said Mrs. Palin not only appeals to rural voters but to suburban women as well.
“She’s a hockey mom, but if she were in Virginia instead of Alaska, she’d be a soccer mom,” Mr. Kilgore said. “She knows the juggling act professional women have to go through every day of their lives.”