- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn. | Hoping to cash in immediately on convention-generated enthusiasm and the “curiosity factor,” Sen. John McCain and the new face of the Republican ticket, running mate Gov. Sarah Palin, returned to the campaign circuit Thursday just minutes after his prime-time presidential nomination acceptance speech.

The Republican ticket headed straight to a state they dearly want - Wisconsin - and will then move on to battleground state Michigan before heading to two states the Democrats have targeted, Colorado and New Mexico.

Political strategists from both parties said they expect the McCain camp to then dispatch Mrs. Palin, a self-described “hockey mom” and Alaska’s governor, on a solo tour to rural parts of battleground states, especially Pennsylvania and Ohio. Democrat Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton garnered millions of votes from women in small towns, and Republicans see an opening.

“She’s going to be very popular in these small towns, and Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania are made up of thousands of small towns,” said Republican Party strategist Scott Reed. Unlike Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. , a 30-year Senate veteran well-known to most Americans: “The curiosity factor’s going to be high on her; she’s an overnight phenomenon.”

One Democratic strategist said Mrs. Palin also helps in states that have often voted Republican in the past, but are in play this November.

“Palin’s value is in the red states that are tossups and the red states that need to fire up the base,” Mary Anne Marsh said. “She was picked for that reason - to fire up the base - and that is where she should campaign.”

But Dick Morris, a former strategist to President Clinton, recommended giving Mrs. Palin, a novice on the national political scene, some time off the trail to prepare for the grilling ahead.

“The key is avoid any gaffes and to trump the Democrats when they try to trip her up (Can you name the vice president of Iran kind of thing),” Mr. Morris said.

(There are 10 vice presidents in Iran who are similar in authority to the White House’s Cabinet.)

If television ratings are any indication of Mrs. Palin’s draw, she could well eclipse her more measured running mate. Some 37.2 million viewers across broadcast and cable networks watched her prime-time speech Wednesday, when - for the first time since her selection last Friday - she directly took on Sen. Barack Obama and her media critics.

The number nearly matched Mr. Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, when 38.3 million tuned in, and was far higher than the draw of his running mate, Mr. Biden, who pulled in 24 million viewers.

Mrs. Palin on Thursday picked up where she left off Wednesday night. She ridiculed Mr. Obama’s record of voting “present” during his eight years in the Illinois Senate, which he did 130 times.

“We don’t have a ‘present’ button as governor - we are expected to lead, we are expected to take action and not just vote ‘present,’” Mrs. Palin told a gathering of Republican governors. “So there’s a big difference, of course, between the executive and legislative branches and our experience.”

In a fundraising letter issued Thursday, she wrote that “the Obama-Biden Democrats have been vicious in their attacks directed toward me, my family and John McCain. The misinformation and flat-out lies must be corrected.”

Mr. Obama on Thursday dismissed the idea that Mrs. Palin had been criticized unfairly because of her gender.

“The notion that many questions about her work in Alaska is somehow not relevant to her potentially being vice president of the United States doesn’t make too much sense to me,” Mr. Obama said while campaigning in rural Pennsylvania.

“I assume she wants to be treated the same way guys are treated, which means their records are under scrutiny. I’ve been through this for 19 months. She’s been through this for, what, four days so far?”

But the Obama campaign has struggled to find a strategy to deal with the 44-year-old mother of five, a former PTA member whose 19-year-old son Track deploys to Iraq on Thursday. Mr. Biden faces a possible backlash if he hits her too hard, which has prompted him to say: “I don’t engage in personal attacks. I will take issue with her ideas.”

He did just that Thursday. “The thing that I was most impressed by - beyond her speech, and how competent she was - was what she didn’t say,” he said in Virginia Beach before listing several top issues to Americans.

But attacks from Democrats and their supporters in the media - including several prominent female columnists, who ridiculed Mrs. Palin’s experience and all but called her a negligent mother whose job allowed her 17-year-old daughter to get pregnant out of wedlock - have unified Republicans.

“It’s clear that the national media overshot the runway in going after Palin,” Mr. Reed said. “It’s going to create a backlash and it’s going to be politically advantageous for her in these rural parts of the country because the truth is, both Obama and the media are making fun of rural America.”

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