John McCain’s main charge against Barack Obama has been inexperience. So it was a shock when, in August, he named Sarah Palin as his running mate. The governor of the sparse state of Alaska for less than two years and mayor of Wasilla (population 5,469) for six, she seemed a risky choice as deputy to a man in his 70s who has suffered recurrent bouts of cancer.
McCain chose Palin for three reasons. The first was to get someone youthful and good looking on the ticket to balance Obama. The second was to reach out to blue collar voters who might have tended towards Hillary Clinton in the primaries and hesitated over voting for the exotic Obama. As a moose hunter and “hockey mom”, Palin certainly ticks these blue collar boxes. The third, and most important, was to cement his support on the Christian right.
McCain has always had a tense relationship with the religious vote. As a western, as opposed to a southern, Republican, McCain is heir to the small government libertarian tradition of the last Arizona Republican to run for president, Barry Goldwater. Back in 2000 McCain branded evangelical leaders Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell “agents of intolerance”.
With her strong pro life views and belief that creationism should be “discussed” in schools, Palin does much to energise the ‘values voters’ who have been the bedrock of Republican support since Richard Nixon’s time.
The concern, apart from her lack of foreign policy experience given questions over McCain’s health, is that this is not a values election but an economic one. No matter how strongly American voters may feel about abortion, gun rights or religion in schools, with the economy heading into recession they are likely to go for the candidate who best addresses their concerns over jobs and mortgages.
Written for London Student, October 2008