Friday, January 29, 2010

Palin Pontifications

Sarah Palin burst on the national political scene with a folksy accent, winks at the camera, and common sense conservatism that at once resonated with middle America and frustrated, confused, and angered elitists on both sides of the aisle.

As we know, she and John McCain lost. She's quit her job as Governor of Alaska, wrote a book, and took a job with Fox News.

From the moment the election was lost, commentators wondered aloud what would become of Palin. She had seemingly overnight become a political rockstar. Her detractors claimed she lacked the foreign policy chops, experience, and frankly, intelligence to be a credible candidate for higher office.

I fall somewhere in the middle. I think there's a place for common sense conservatism within the national debate. I think she's a great spokesperson for that cause. Being a real mom with real kid problems, she can offer a voice for an underrepresented populace. The operative word is real. It was Palin's authenticity that was the undercurrent of her popularity. She was who she was. That Popeye the Sailormanian quality is what made Palin stand out in a sea of Ivy League educated guys with their fingers in the wind waiting on opinion polls before taking a position.

That's why Palin's performance on Fox, before and after the State of the Union was so awful. It wasn't just that she was awkwardly using words to sound smart. It was the patently obvious attempt to answer questions about her intelligence. So instead of offering her popular folksy wisdom, she sounded like a 9th grader trying out for debate team.

Asked by Brett Baier for her preview of the State of the Union, Palin responded:
"I think tonight, Brett, you’re gonna hear the President attempt to mollify or rationalize what is perceived as a more laxidazical (sic) approach to dealing with of the war on terror, and our handling of terrorists. And on the economic front, I think what we’re going to hear is his justification of what some perceive as a tax on our free enterprise system, as he seeks to fulfill his commitment to quote “fundamentally transform this country.” I think he’s going to forge ahead very boldly with his policy agenda, but surely there will be an acknowledgement in there that the public does not seem enamored with his policies. Today, I think he’s going to pivot a bit more to the center from his leftist views and actions that he’s taken thus far. Surely we will see some acknowledgement in that arena."

It wasn't quite as bad as the South Carolina beauty queen, but it had that same strained or reaching quality to it.

Instead of trying to be something she's not, she needs to recognize the attributes that made her popular and accentuate those. Sure, she'll have critics. Everyone in public life does. Popular marketing author Seth Godin penned a book called the Purple Cow. It talks about standing out by being remarkable. Palin would be wise to read it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pence Breakdown

The news today is that Congressman Mike Pence (R-Ind) has decided not to take on incumbent Senator Evan Bayh this fall. While I'm disappointed in Pence's decision, as I believe his popularity, name recognition, and his ability to communicate would have made him the favorite against a weakened Bayh, I can understand the decision.

To begin with, Pence would have to spend the next 10 months at fundraising lunches and dinners to be able to compete with the warchest that Bayh has amassed. Secondary to that, Pence is in a solidly Republican district, which will allow him to focus his ample leadership capability on holding Democrats accountable over the months leading up to the election. He'll have far more impact as a campaigner for candidates across Indiana and the country, than he would battling Bayh for a seat that would take year's to gain the clout he's already gained in the House.

In his letter to supporters, Pence said, "I am staying for two reasons. First because I have been given the responsibility to shape the Republican comeback as a member of the House Republican Leadership and, second, because I believe Republicans will win back the majority in the House of Representatives in 2010."

Pence isn't alone in the belief that Republican's can win back the House this fall. Rasmussen Report has Republicans leading a generic congressional ballot at 46% to 37%. And while elections aren't run in generic districts and previous years show that even when polls show discontent toward "Washington", voters tend to see their own representatives in a more favorable light, I think the lesson of the past few months is that while all politics is local, voters are responding to national issues.

On top of all those reasons, Pence would've had no easy road to the Republican nomination.

While light on name ID, State Senator Marlin Stutzman has a credible candidacy, as well has former Congressman John Hostettler, who's anti-Washington rhetoric, national experience, and rampant conservatism play right into the wave of support that just elected Scott Brown in Massachusetts.

On Stutzman, Hot Air's Ed Morrisey said that while he is polling double digits behind Bayh and never won a statewide race, "still, former state Senators seem to be in vogue at the moment." Adam Brickley at likes that Stutzman is an unknown quantity. "Hosttetler may be the better known candidate nationally, but he also has a lot of baggage. Conversely, Stutzman has no name recognition but looks to be building a competent campaign that can compete. At first glance, I think he could be marketable and I like his offbeat advertising. With an infusion of NRSC cash and the right strategy, he could be very viable – and he’s certainly the sort of fresh face that you need to run a giant-killing campaign"

Hostettler does have some "baggage", but little more than anyone who has a 12 year voting record and that much time in the public spotlight. Digging deeper into the supposed baggage, his personal support of the 2nd Amendment is not a liability in Indiana, like it might be in other areas of the country. And, the fact he was not in lockstep with a Republican Congress that outspent any in history until the current Democratic Congress, will probably play well, too. Quinn Hillyer at the American Spectator said on him, "I like John Hostettler, who already is announced and who is trailing Evan Bayh by just three points in a recent poll -- but Hostettler has an antipathy to raising money and insists on running campaigns that aren't exactly professional by modern standards."

Hillyer continued, "Nevertheless, I think Indianans and national officials should try to recruit somebody like former U.S. Rep. David McIntosh, who has run statewide in Indiana before, or even bring Dan Quayle back to Indiana. The race is winnable, but it needs somebody in it who isn't just a good man, but a superb campaigner." Looking past his use of the term "Indianans", which shows Hillyer's never been to the Hoosier State, I think this analysis overlooks the case of Scott Brown. Part of the attraction was that he was a relative newcomer to the Massachusetts political scene compared to Coakley. On top of running against healthcare, and criminalizing terrorism, he ran against the machine politics in his state. It's not to say that incumbents or big names won't win anywhere, especially since the districts are gerrymandered to prevent that. But, putting a decade's old name back into the race is no way to capitalize on an energized base that has seething frustration for Washington.

Which leads to the final point that "The Hill" focused on from Pence's announcement at the Heritage Foundation today, that he is a credible outsider candidate for the GOP Presidential nomination in 2012. Recent history suggests that Republican's tend to settle on the best guy from the last primary, which would make Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee poised to lead the field, but the recent Democratic overreach and subsequent backlash is not something I see changing over the next two years. And although James Garfield is the only President ever to have gone directly from the House of Representatives to the White House, if a freshman Senator can get elected on platitudes, anything can happen for Pence in the next two years.