TONY COX, host:
The GOP convention is obviously a work in progress now because of the events surrounding Hurricane Gustav. But hurricane or not, the Republicans must still officially nominate their presidential and vice-presidential candidates before the week is out. Last week, John McCain energized the GOP voting base when he chose Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. The announcement stole some of the thunder from the coverage of the Democratic National Convention, and now voters are faced with the historic decision to cast a ballot for a woman or an African-American.
Here to size up the political landscape are Amy Holmes, a political analyst for the cable news network CNN, and Mary Frances Berry, she is a regular contributor to News & Notes, and professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania. Welcome to both of you. Dr. MARY FRANCES BERRY (Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania): Well, all right.
Ms. AMY HOLMES (Political Analyst, CNN): Welcome, thank you.
COX: All right, let's start with this, because black - the Democrat's message was carefully crafted during their convention, the Republicans have had to scramble, obviously because of the hurricane. Amy, is this an advantage or a disadvantage for the GOP?
Ms. HOLMES: You know, I think that has yet to be seen. John McCain and his campaign, they're watching to see the impact of this hurricane on the region. But they've certainly tried to be responsive and respectful and, you know, put their energies towards being Americans and not partisans when it comes to this. As McCain said, you know, take off your partisan hat, put on your American hat. And I can tell you, during Katrina, I worked for the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and he flew straight down there, immediately, without bells and whistles, without alerting the media. Just to go down there, offer relief as a medical doctor, and I think that's how the McCain campaign is approaching it today.
COX: Mary, is it an advantage or disadvantage for the Democrats?
Dr. BERRY: Well, I've got - I live part of the time in New Orleans, and I've got friends who are evacuated, and I've got my property all with plywood all over it. So I'm very close to this New Orleans situation, and I think that it can be an advantage for the Republicans if it turns out OK.
And so far, so good. I have to give them credit for mounting everything, all the resources to get people out of there. I'm going to be watching as we see what happens to see if they take care of the people once they are out, and where they are, and if they get them back. Because after Katrina, of course, people - some died, but some never got back, who wanted to get back.
If they mishandle it, it will be an advantage for the Democrats. Also, it is an advantage for the Democrats because they cannot run the script, whatever it was - I'm not sure what it was - for their convention with the outcome that they had wanted. They may be able to turn lemons into lemonade, but we'll just have to see.
COX: Voters have a chance to make a historic choice in electing Barack Obama. They also have a chance to make a historic choice in Sarah Palin, who could become the first woman vice president. Here's how one African-American voter that we talked to at the Republican Convention is thinking about his choice.
Unidentified Man (African-American Voter): This is not about pop culture, this is not about being popular, this is about electing someone who can deliver for the American people. That's where I'm coming from.
COX: Now Amy, I'm not quite sure how to interpret that, in terms of whether he liked Sarah Palin, or did not like her. But there's a lot of talk about her, in part because she's already generated - helped to generate 10 million dollars in the Republican Party coffers, and yet now the headlines today are that her daughter is - her teenage daughter is pregnant. So how much, you know, of an asset is she?
Ms. HOLMES: I'm not sure what that last bit has to do with anything. But what I think, that the person you were talking to was trying to convey was that he's not looking at race and gender, he's looking at competence. And being at the Republican Convention, he's there to gather as much information, obviously, he's a partisan, and I would guess intends to vote for John McCain. But I think that's the point he was trying to make.
COX: Well, let me ask you, Mary. Is that a fair issue to raise up? The pregnancy of her daughter, does it have anything to do with family values?
Dr. BERRY: Well, I think that it's interesting after I've been reading all weekend that she was - had the baby, or something, or was the daughters baby, or whose baby, that it finally came out what the story is. I think that for people who are Christian Conservatives, they like to - abstinence only, so they probably don't like people getting pregnant, teenage pregnancy, as we know is a problem.
But the fact that they said that they were going to get married right away, and that she's having the baby, and she's not talking about abortion. For people who are on that side of the issue, it seems to me like that's another plus, just as her getting the Down syndrome baby. But I think that - having the Down syndrome baby, rather than aborting it.
But I think on the Palin issue, the Democrats can use this to their advantage if they keep talking about her on the issues and not on her personal life. To the extent that they talk about her personal life, and poke fun at her, and say things about her family, and this, that, and the other, they will just turn off people who don't like that sort of politics. But there's enough about the issues - on the issues, to disagree with, that I think that most black folk, and most people who are thinking about progressive politics, would be offended, and so therefore, in the end she would not be a plus.
COX: Well Amy, let me put it to you this way, with regard to the choice of her as vice president. The GOP seems to want two things from her. One, to energize the conservative base, which she seems to have done, and two, to offer an appealing counterpart to the Democratic ticket. How effective will she be at doing both of those things?
Ms. HOLMES: Well already, as you mentioned, she's been very effective at energizing the GOP base. Just over the past three days, the McCain campaign has raised 10 million dollars. You hear reports from folks who are in St. Paul - I'm actually in New York City - but you hear reports from them that they are just delighted. From Evangelical conservatives, to economic conservatives and Libertarians that, you know, she's really hit it out of the park in terms of ideology and what they're concerned about.
The second point, in terms of presenting an appealing face, she has an incredible life story. You know, if the public has a chance to see a video biography of her, I think they're going to be incredibly impressed. This is someone who doesn't just vote with the NRA, she's a hunter. She goes out, she kills a caribou, skins it, cleans it, and cooks it up for dinner. I mean, it's just extraordinary the type of life that she's leading, and I think could really connect with voters who are the blue-collar, working-class, those sort of, as people say, Heartland value voters, I think that she's a very intriguing choice.
And I would also point out, that the female vote is not monolithic, that while Democrats tend to get younger women, and older women, Republicans do very well at the presidential level with married women. And so in choosing Sarah Palin, I think they're hoping that her appeal as, you know - to married women will help John McCain.
Dr. BERRY: Well, I think a lot of Hillary Clinton voters, if they are expecting to peel those away, won't vote for McCain because of Palin, because they don't like her on the issues. They don't like her stance on the abortion issue, or any of the other things. When we talk about the evolution issue, and a lot of sort of things that most people consider sort of crack pot, even though there are large numbers of people who support these ideas of what should be taught in school. And so I don't think that - but I hope that people will look at the issues, and not look at, you know, all these little things about this personal thing and that personal thing, and then I think that they will make the right decision.
But in fact, in talking to Hillary Clinton voters, strong Hillary Clinton voters, which is what I've been taking my informal poll, some of them were so angry about Palin and the idea that they'd vote for a woman, they went out and started volunteering for Obama, even if they hadn't done anything before. Others who had been persuaded that Obama had all of these defects we hear about on the Internet, like he didn't salute the flag - which isn't true - and other things, started saying, oh well, maybe she's true-blue, and McCain is, and we'll vote for McCain. But I think that he will get only a small percentage, if any, of the Clinton vote, and that's why Hillary Clinton is even more important to the Obama campaign.
COX: Well Amy, what about some of this gender blowback from people who suggest that the McCain's selection of her was disingenuous?
Ms. HOLMES: Well, they can make those claims, but John McCain is certainly his own man, and there're Republicans, you know, so called insiders, who are like, wow, this is really a bold choice. This was a risky choice, but McCain was making a decision about who he might want to work with, or you know, who he would want to work with for the next four years.
But getting back to Hillary Clinton voters, you know, certainly a lot of them will end up behind Barack Obama. But let's face it, CNN had a poll that 27 percent of them were planning to vote for McCain. This is a man with a 25-year pro-life record. In choosing Sarah Palin, he didn't all of a sudden become pro-life, he's been pro-life since being in the Congress and the United States Senate.
Dr. BERRY: Well Amy...
Ms. HOLMES: Hold on just a minute please.
Dr. BERRY: Amy, the CNN poll that you cited...
Ms. HOLMES: Hold on, let me finish. Just a moment...
Dr. BERRY: Was before Palin was announced.
Ms. HOLMES: Certainly, and that's the point that I'm making. Which is that Senator McCain has always been pro-life, and some of those Hillary Clinton supporters were still willing to put their support behind him. I might also point out that Geraldine Ferraro, herself said that there was a percentage of Hillary Clinton voters - now I'm not talking the majority, but a percentage, who were hoping to make history, and Geraldine Ferraro said that with Sarah Palin they might just have that chance.
So I don't think anybody thinks the majority of Hillary Clinton supporters will, you know, throw their support behind John McCain, but for those women who wanted this opportunity, it's certainly been presented to them. And for those women for whom abortion is not their number one issue, and I would argue that there are quite a number of women who care about other things as well. That...
Dr. BERRY: Can I get in here, Tony?
COX: Unfortunately you can't, because the time has run out. We'll have to have you come back to continue the conversation.
Dr. BERRY: Thank you, Amy.
COX: Amy, Mary Frances, thank you both very much.
Ms. HOLMES: Thank you.
COX: Amy Holmes is a CNN political analyst. Mary Frances Berry is a regular contributor to News & Notes and professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania.