US VEEPs: Bettering Democratic and Republican tickets?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Nina Hamedani

In the United States, and around the world, all eyes are on this November's Presidential elections.

The Maverick vs. Change

People from around the world are fed up with US hubris and political extension beyond its geographic boundaries. America faces economic recession and billion-dollar bailouts; US troops remain in Afghanistan and Iraq indefinitely, perpetuating instability in the region, and the (soon to be former) Bush administration has called for increased sanctions against Iran due to its pursuit of nuclear energy.

Amidst this potentially volatile time, Republican presidential nominee John McCain and Democratic rival Barack Obama have both trained their sights on the White House. The former built a platform that bases everything on him being a 'maverick' and the latter walks a platform of 'change'.

Holding true to his campaign ideas, McCain chose a virtual unknown as his vice presidential running mate. Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin has shocked conservatives and liberals alike with her folksy nature and alleged inexperience in the ways of Washington - which was the same criticism Republicans made regarding junior Democratic Senator Barack Obama.

Obama chose Joe Biden, an outspoken and well-known senator since the 1970s with foreign policy expertise to boot. He has long served as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, which is now chaired by him. Many believed that Obama would pick Senator Hilary Clinton, but fans and critics now agree that Biden's experience would be advantageous as the Democratic running mate.

For a vice president, it is imperative to have someone that is knowledgeable on domestic and world politics and compliments the presidential candidate in a way to make up for any possible deficiencies.

Have the VP picks helped the presidential candidates?

The Democratic National Convention was held prior to the Republican (GOP) National Convention in August this year. Obama therefore made the first pick. The McCain campaign thus knew that it could sweep Hilary Clinton's would-be votes by choosing a female candidate.

At first, support for Palin was palpable. She added a youthful vitality to McCain's campaign and connected with 'hockey Moms' throughout America.

However, the small-town, folksy nature of Palin soon became a liability, calling her political capabilities into question. She gaffed her way through media events, such as interviews with journalists Charlie Reese and Katie Couric, by declaring that she had foreign policy experience because of her town's proximity to Russia; she knew nothing about the Bush Doctrine and remained unable to name a single Supreme Court landmark case besides Roe v. Wade.

Palin was then lambasted by comedians like Saturday Night Live's Tina Fey - who with her signature glasses bore an undeniable resemblance to Palin. Comedians came up with numerous digs, drawing parallels between McCain's choice and a Disney movie's prelude where somehow the lovable mom ends up as president and uses her knowledge from children's sports to rule the country. For many, this sounded like a nightmare - and the polls reflected growing Obama favorability.

Prior to the first presidential debate on September 26th at 'Ole Miss' (University of Mississippi), opinion polls showed Obama pushing way ahead of McCain. After the debate, a Gallup poll revealed that 46% thought Obama won the debate with only 34% saying that McCain had come out on top. Both parties aimed to widen the gap between Republican and Democratic policies to show the differences in the candidates' policies.

The first presidential debate was overshadowed by the financial crisis and the concurrent federal bailout as well as the buzz surrounding the October 2nd vice presidential debate.

Conservative Republicans were so disparaged by Palin's media blunders, many began calling for her to responsibly pull out of the race so that McCain could have a chance at the White House. At this point, expectations of Palin's performance were set at a low bar. As for Biden, his performance was almost a non-issue, with the assumption he would do well, given his credentials.

The CNN Opinion Research Corp. concluded after the Biden-Palin debate that 51% thought Biden succeeded. Along technical lines, 52% thought Biden expressed his views competently and coherently.

The respondents to the same poll valued Palin's folksy nature and deemed her more likable at 54%. In all, however, a resounding 87% entrust Biden as qualified to assume the presidency if something happened to the head of state.

Have Palin and Biden helped McCain and Obama, respectively, in the polls? It could be argued that Palin is actually helping Obama more so than McCain. The Rasmussen Report daily Presidential Tracking Poll demonstrates that Obama, as of October 6th, has the highest level of popular support his campaign has seen to date. This height is reached during a twenty-five day stint with support for the Democrats avoiding even the slightest declination.

The Sway-able Voters

Highest on the to-do list now for both Presidential candidates is how to sway the undecided voters. It is given that the loyal Republicans will vote for McCain, and the loyal Democrats will vote for Obama. But it is those votes in-between that the candidates will be vying for in the weeks to come.

Who are these target voters? Women.

Gallup has conducted polls and concluded that women who support Obama-Biden are “those with no religious identification; those aged 18-34; those with college educations”. Women who align with McCain-Palin are “those who attend church weekly; those who are married; those aged 55 or older”. The women voters trying to be won, according to Gallup polling, are “Catholics; those who do not have a college degree; those with no children under 18; the middle aged 35 to 54; those making between $12,000 and $60,000 a year; those mid-range in religiosity”. This latter group is described as “divided” and “most likely to be swayed” in the election's countdown.

American women's rights advocate, Gloria Steinem, wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times titled “Palin: Wrong Woman, Wrong Message” to espouse the theory that American women will sympathize and vote for McCain because he has a female on his ticket. Steinem proves that women will be harder to sway towards McCain-Palin due to the fact that they would not promote placing an inexperienced woman in the White House just for the sake of it.

Remaining Chances, We'll Wait and See

Obama and McCain still have two more chances to debate each other, make their cases to America, win supporters, and hopefully win the White House. The McCain media ads have turned to smears against Obama. And Obama political ads have begun to demonstrate the flaws in McCain-Palin rhetoric by focusing on specifics.

In these next few weeks leading up to November 4th, both Biden and Palin have the opportunity to play a crucial role in aiding the campaigns of their running mates. Their media appearances will be consistently watched and critiqued in the US political arena, by the US and international media, but most importantly by the American voters.


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