Thursday, September 4, 2008

Palin likely to grab Golden State's attention if not its votes

ST. PAUL, Minn. — When Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin accepts the Republican Party's vice presidential nomination in a much-anticipated convention speech today, the 345-member California delegation will stand in an awkward place.

Undeniably, Golden State delegates enthusiastically embrace Palin, presumptive GOP presidential nominee John McCain's surprise vice presidential pick.

At speech after speech and in the hallways during convention-related events this week, California GOP leaders extolled Palin's gubernatorial experience and her compelling personal story of a trailblazing Alaskan who fights corruption and shoots moose.

"She is a tremendously successful and strong person with a lot to offer her country," said delegate Jill Buck of Pleasanton, founder of an environmental education organization. "I'm so excited to see the Republican Party choose a woman as its vice presidential nominee."

But many of Palin's social positions differ drastically from those of the average Californian: She is anti-abortion, supports oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, disbelieves doomsday global warming predictions and says schools should teach creationism alongside evolution.

Privately, some Golden State delegates worry McCain is using Palin to lure evangelical and socially conservative voters at the risk of alienating moderate and swing voters.

Revelations earlier this week that Palin's unmarried 17-year-old daughter Advertisementis pregnant further fueled concerns that McCain failed to adequately vet her.

"If the plan is to win disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters, I don't see how Palin translates into votes for McCain, particularly in California," said Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo. "Hillary Clinton supporters in California are mostly (abortion rights) Democrats and independents."

No one is "further from Hillary Clinton on the political spectrum in California or anywhere than Sarah Palin," said Ellen Moran, executive director of EMILY's List, an organization that raises money for Democratic women who support abortion rights.

Other than the most optimistic Republicans, few expect McCain to win in blue California over Democratic nominee and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

But East Bay delegates say Palin could help McCain attract California's attention.

Voters care about high gas prices, the shaky economy and national security far more than they do divisive social issues, said delegate Sean Walsh of Oakland, a former top staff member for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"Governor Palin is a woman and in a progressive state like California, that helps, period," Walsh said. "The economy, energy and economic uncertainty are foremost on voters' minds, not social issues." The pregnancy of Palin's teenage daughter is a "private family matter" that will only remind voters that she is a mother, said California Young Republican President Jennifer Rodriguez.

As for the "mommy wars" debate about whether a mother of five, including an infant with special needs, should tackle a time-consuming job, Rodriguez called it "appalling" that anyone would deny a woman and mother the same opportunities as a man to serve.

"As a young professional woman who hopes to start a family," she said, "that attitude is setting us backward."

It is unclear if Palin will spend much time in California other than to attend fundraisers. The affluent state is an ATM for presidential political campaigns.

Palin is scheduled to hold fundraisers in late September in Southern California and Pebble Beach, where she will likely receive considerable media attention.

Ken Khachigian, a veteran California conservative strategist, said Palin will get a lot of attention in the state's inland regions. "She will get conservatives going, she'll stir up the troops. She's an attraction, that 1,000-candle-watt smile and traveling with her baby. She's intriguing. The downside is scrutiny, the upside is coverage."

Added Khachigian, "I wouldn't bring her to San Francisco, Marin County or parts of L.A., but she'll do well in a lot of other parts."

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