He was dismissed and ridiculed, but Dan Quayle did not keep George H.W. Bush from becoming president in 1988. It's never about running mates ...
... until now. Fair to say, no one expected Sarah Palin to be the catalyst that brought John McCain into a dead heat with Barack Obama.
Twelve years ago today, Reform Party candidate Ross Perot named economist Pat Choate as his running mate.
Remember all those times I told you that nobody votes for vice president, that it's the top of the ticket that really matters? Remember all those examples I gave you? Dan Quayle in 1988, widely ridiculed, a disastrous first impression, mocked in the VP debate by Lloyd Bentsen ... and yet the Bush-Quayle ticket that year took 40 states? Remember Geraldine Ferraro, whose nomination in 1984 elicited tears and excitement from the delegates in San Francisco, but who in the end couldn't prevent Walter Mondale from losing 49 states to President Ronald Reagan?
Well, don't throw out those old columns just yet. St. Paul is still just less than a week ago. And while I still say this thing will be decided by voters who want either Barack Obama or John McCain to be their next president, I can't say that I'm not shocked at how the conversation has been about just one candidate for vice president.
Hint: It's not Joe Biden.
No, McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was not the most surprising thing I've ever witnessed in politics. She was, after all, on most lists of prospective GOP running mates (check out the April 2 column), and she remained among the final Republican possibilities that appeared in my Veepstakes chart until her Aug. 29 selection. So it's not as if her name came out of nowhere.
Further, I never bought into the thought that McCain was really considering naming a pro-choice running mate, such as former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge or independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Whatever opportunities down the road McCain might have seen with independent voters and disaffected Democrats would have paled in comparison with the mutiny he would have witnessed in St. Paul. This is an anti-abortion party. What he needed, first and foremost, was a successful convention. And that he got with Palin.
What does appear unprecedented is the way her nomination has been received. McCain has managed to rally the conservatives who run the Republican Party (and who never particularly loved him) behind his candidacy — no mean feat. It's still early, but Palin continues to get a far louder reception on the campaign trail than the guy she's running with. (Scot Roberts of Reedley, Calif., suggesting that it's all about Palin, writes that McCain is "running on her skirt tails.")
The biggest head-turner of all has been the shift in female voters since Palin was named to the ticket. Before the Democratic convention in late August, The Washington Post/ABC News poll showed Obama with an 8-point lead among white women, 50 percent to 42 percent. Now McCain has that lead, and it's by 12 points: 53-41. Sixty-seven percent of this group views Palin favorably.
The election, which for the longest time was Obama's to lose, is now considered no worse than even (the USA Today/Gallup Poll goes even further, with McCain up among likely voters by 10). Republican Senate and House candidates, running for the longest time with their tails between their legs, are now exhibiting new confidence. All this, courtesy of Palin — her riveting convention speech, her "hockey mom" persona, her compelling family story, her effective "us vs. the elite" line that began with her speech in St. Paul. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many voters are dismayed by what they determine to be a concerted effort by the media to report whatever negative stuff they can find about her, with or without corresponding facts.
This shift in momentum may well be fleeting; it could come to a halt when Palin and Biden meet up in their VP debate Oct. 2 in St. Louis. It could end even sooner, when Palin faces a slew of media interviews, beginning with ABC's Charlie Gibson. And who knows what the media will find in Alaska with their nonstop drilling? Maybe it ends at the hands of the inexperienced Palin herself, who mystifyingly continues to talk about how she stood up to Congress over the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere," even though she was on record as favoring it before she opposed it. And there will be no shortage of reminders about the paucity of her record and that she will be, after all, a heartbeat away from the presidency should the 72-year-old McCain win.
Or she could propel the GOP ticket into the White House, a prospect that even the most loyal of Republicans thought laughable just a month or so ago. If nothing else, her selection has united the party and given them momentum going into the general election. This was not supposed to be an election with Republicans having momentum.
The selection of Lyndon Johnson as his running mate may have been what ultimately gave John Kennedy the presidency. That has long been looked at as the model for a successful VP pick. But Johnson was never the star attraction in 1960. Palin is, at least now, with just over 50 days to go before Nov. 4. This may have been a McCain Hail Mary pass, but like the one launched in 1984 by Doug Flutie to wide receiver Gerry Phelan, it was a completion. And Boston College won the game. Who'd a thunk it?
Answer to trivia question: Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee for vice president.
PREDICT THIS: We kind of had the feeling that, in picking running mates, one party would go conventional and one party would surprise everyone. We just had it backward. And yes, we did say the GOP would pick a governor and the Dems would name a senator from the East. Aside from that, everything else was wrong ... which is usually the case when it comes to our VP predictions: