Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rick Davis on Palin: VP Selection is easy when you're up 15 points, but is tough when you're down 15

This is part one in a series of posts on Rick Davis' recent visit with political science students and faculty at Wake Forest.

On Palin...
Davis mentioned that the campaign was keeping tabs on what the Democrats were doing over the summer; not necessarily in terms of their vice presidential selection, but poll position among various demographic groups. Beyond that, the McCain camp came up with a list of about 50 names that was ultimately whittled down to about 20. That was the serious list. At that point, Davis sat down with McCain with the names and the numbers and discussed the selection. Davis prefaced this by saying (I'm paraphrasing), "Because, you know, the candidate has some input, too."

To that point, the campaign seemed to be targeting possibilities that would help them sway Hillary Democrats (or are those Reagan Democrats?), but people like Joe Lieberman and Michael Bloomberg were not moving the needle in a positive direction for the Arizona senator among those folks in particular or overall. It was at this time that McCain proposed the idea of looking at women, but as Davis suggested, the reality was (and is) that there just aren't that many female Republican options. Admittedly, I was hoping during this point in the talk that Davis would name names of other Republican women considered, but all he said, in addition to the slim pickings comment, was that women in politics and business were considered. On the business front, I can't help but assume that both Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman had their names come up, but don't know how seriously either was considered.

Part of the problem for Republicans in 2008 was that it was just plain hard to run with an R next to your name unless you were representing a ruby red state or congressional district. What was vexing the McCain campaign, though, and what led them to consider a woman for the number two position on the ticket, was that they were facing a tremendous gender gap among their core of white voters. In the end the only one who significantly closed that gap (and was someone who McCain could live with) was Sarah Palin. Among those white voters, she took an approximately 40 point gender gap and shrunk it to single digits. [Something that I really wanted to ask in follow up to this point is what Davis thought about the fact that the 2012 polling done thus far has consistently shown Palin trailing her male Republican counterparts relative to Obama in terms of the gender gap. Alas, I didn't have the opportunity.]

I wouldn't say they thought her selection was a no-brainer, but their were advantages to her having been picked. Even Steve Schmidt is drawing a distinction between 2008 Palin and potential 2012 Palin; calling her potential nomination in 2012 "catastrophic," but adding just today that her selection was defensible. ["I believe to this day that had she not been picked as a vice presidential candidate, we would have never been ahead, not for one second, not for one minute, not for one hour, not for one day."] The lead Schmidt references there was something Davis touched on as well: That in national polls, McCain was ahead after the Palin pick. Now granted, that was during that unprecedented string of events from the close of the Democratic convention on Thursday night, to the introduction of Palin on Friday to the Republican convention the following week. The lead may have been due to a Palin effect, but there very likely was at least something of an interactive effect between that and the convention bounce.

The McCain folks apparently are of a mind that it was Palin and not the convention though.

Recent Posts:
Rick Davis at Wake Forest: A Series of Postscripts

State of the Race: New Jersey Governor (10/14/09)

State of the Race: Virginia Governor (10/13/09)

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