John McCain gambled big when he selected little-known Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential pick. But news from the campaign trail suggests that Palin has turned to out be a political trump card: By playing this unexpected ace so expertly, McCain has set off a frenzy of media coverage, fueling publicity for the Republicans and an attendant bump in the polls in their favor. Palin’s impact has been even more noticeable among Democrats, who have descended into full-on panic mode with the introduction of this new star.
Palin's rising popularity has badly shaken Democratic supporters. If they had expected their candidate to coast to an easy victory in November, Palin has dashed hopes of an electoral cakewalk. So it is that Democrats have launched a full-scale character assassination campaign against her.
Palin has had to endure several vicious verbal assaults that liberals ordinarily would not tolerate against a woman. Comedian Bill Maher, for example, crudely joked about her four-month-old baby Trig, saying “she had ‘it’ when she was 43 years old, and ‘it’ looks like John Edwards.” Actor Matt Damon dismissed Palin as a backwoods naïf unfit for the presidency. "It's like a really bad Disney movie,” Damon cracked. “You know? The hockey mom, 'Oh I'm just a hockey mom from Alaska,' and she's the PRESIDENT…. I need to know if she really thinks that dinosaurs were here 4,000 years ago…because she's gonna have the nuclear codes."
Liberal women were hardly more civil. Pamela Anderson was outright vulgar, saying: "I can't stand her, she can s--k it.” Feminist Gloria Steinem said Palin shared "nothing but a chromosome with Hilary Clinton." Even abroad, a female writer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation charmingly asserted that Palin "added nothing to the ticket that the Republicans didn't already have sewn up: the white trash vote."
And Democrats are not done yet. Currently, pro-Obama partisans and their media allies are scouring Alaska for dirt about Palin. So far, the best they have produced is Palin's dismissal of her Public Safety Commissioner, Walter Monegan, in July. Monegan claims that he was let go because he refused to fire state trooper Mike Wooten, Palin's ex-brother-in-law, who has been involved in a bitter custody battle with Palin's sister. For her critics, this is evidence of Palin’s vindictive governing style and perhaps a hint of a deeper scandal. But Palin points out that the decision was not personal but performance-related. On budget issues especially, Monegan was out of synch with the governor. Despite gleeful speculation about Palin’s very own “Troopergate,” this controversy is mostly contrived.
One reason that Democrats’ allegations of corruption have not found purchase is that Palin has a real record of reform. In a bold move only days after becoming Alaska’s governor, she stood up to the oil giants in her state and cleaned house at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), firing and demoting several top officials and, eventually, appointing a new DNR director to oversee the energy companies that provide the state with 85 percent of its revenue. Her abilities have earned the respect and acknowledgement of at least one Democrat: vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden. On NBC's Meet the Press, Biden referred to Palin as "a smart, tough politician," predicting that she would be "very formidable" in the upcoming October 2 debate.
Biden was not wrong in his assessment. Palin is indeed proving to be an Alaskan blizzard on the national political scene. In her introductory speech, she showed political smarts as well as personal graciousness, when she cleverly inserted a tribute to Hillary Clinton. "Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America,” Palin said. “But it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all."
Polls indicate that Palin may be right. One recent Gallup poll showed a ten-point lead by McCain over Obama, 54-44, while just prior to the Democratic-Republican conventions, McCain had managed to pull a 5 point advantage in a Reuter/Zogby poll. Palin may not entirely account for this shift, but there can be little doubt that her emergence on the national scene, and the increasingly sleazy attacks on her by Democrats, have helped drive up the numbers.
Instead of destroying Palin's credibility, Democrats and their supporters have been ruining their own. Not only have their attacks done nothing to stop the electrifying effect Palin has had on the McCain campaign but they may well propel the ticket to the White House. It’s doubtful that McCain could have envisioned this turn of events when he first selected Palin as his running mate. But what once seemed like a risk at best now looks like a winning strategy.