Friday, August 29, 2008

The GOP change agent?

Illinois Republicans have come to expect the unexpected with U.S. Sen. John McCain, their presumptive nominee for president, but Friday’s announcement about his new running mate was flat out shocking to some members of the Illinois GOP.

Taking attention away from the Democratic National Convention in Denver, where U.S. Sen. Barack Obama accepted the presidential nomination in a stadium of 85,000 people the night before, McCain selected Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. She’s a virtual unknown who has since been described as an “outsider” to Washington, D.C.

“My first reaction was, ‘Oh no, another Dan Quayle,’” said Illinois Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson, McCain’s chairman of legislators. He referred to the former Indiana senator who served as vice president under George H.W. Bush. “I thought, ‘Here’s another unknown, untested — from Alaska — that you question the electoral benefit it brings to the ticket.’”

But Watson said the more he learned about Palin and the more he listened to her speech, the more he believed that she would provide a fresh face with sincere character and an energy that the GOP ticket needs. (It’s easier to see her bio from the Illinois Republican Party’s Web site because her site has been down all day.)

Palin not only brings a whole new level of excitement to the ticket, said state Rep. Jim Durkin, but she also brings the gender issue back into the race.

“Barack Obama’s campaign had an opportunity to put a strong woman on as everybody’s president, and they decided not to do it. On a number of levels, I think it’s a great idea,” said Durkin, McCain’s national legislative co-chair. He added that Palin is a “strong woman” who has “good conservative credentials.”

Obama supporters immediately jumped on the fact that Palin has served about two years as governor and two years as a small-town mayor, saying it negates the argument that Obama lacks experience to run the country.

Illinois GOP delegates countered that by emphasizing her executive experience. “She’s made more decisions as an executive than Barack Obama has ever made in his days as a state senator and in the few moments that he’s been in the U.S. Senate,” Durkin said.

U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, a Peoria Republican, said today during a Statehouse news conference that McCain’s pick of Palin, who broke the proverbial glass ceiling as the first female governor of Alaska, is classic McCain. “His pick today proves that he’s going to do what he wants to do and what he thinks is right and what he thinks is best, and not what some poll tells him and not what his consultants or his advisors tell him.”

On the other hand, Christopher Mooney, political studies professor with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said Palin’s nomination seems to directly respond to the polls. “It appears, at this point, to be sort of cynical ploy to go after the Hillary Clinton supporters. That seems to be one of the main strategies. They saw a little thing in the polls that suggested that 20 percent of the Hillary supporters are not going to vote for Barack.”

But, Mooney said, she’s got more than youth and the token gender. She also offers expertise in dealing with energy issues and a set of ideals that could help compensate for McCain’s weakness in attracting conservative Republicans. Describing her as “aggressive in a positive way,” Mooney cited her lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for listing polar bears as a threatened species. “She got a public policy perspective. She’s got an ideology. And she’s going for it. She’s not a shrinking violet.”

And, he said, it’s hard to avoid the parallel between Palin and Geena Davis, who played the first female vice president who had to take over the U.S. presidency in the ABC show, Commander in Chief. “It just makes an interesting year that much more interesting. Hang on folks, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

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