Travels with Sarah

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  October 24, 2008

In Dover, where the venue could hold only a few hundred, many more hundreds who were turned away stood in a field to listen to a piped-out broadcast of her speech. In Laconia, an estimated 3000 or more attended — a fairly remarkable number for a midday speech in a sparsely populated area. The main event in Salem that evening drew 4000, according to the Manchester Union Leader, although some placed the estimate even higher.

Palin was treated like a rock star, an unusual feting by New Hampshire Republicans for any pol. Many attendees told the Phoenix that they had not been McCain voters in the primary. Most were far more effusive about Palin than the man at the top of the ticket. Few would concede Obama’s apparent advantage (though Palin herself acknowledged in her speeches that the Democrat is running six points ahead), and nobody agreed with the emerging conventional wisdom that, on a national level, Palin is a hindrance to the ticket. To the contrary, they see her as its savior.

To many conservatives, Palin is a star who shines independently of McCain — and far brighter. McCain, well-liked among New Hampshire independents and moderates, has never been a favorite of the state’s conservatives — in January’s presidential primary, he won just 18 percent of the vote among those self-described as “very conservative.”

Still, those pinning their hopes on Palin in 2012 are doing so against the strong winds of history: none of the last 21 vice-presidential nominees on the losing ticket have gone on to become president. In fact, since Ohio governor James Cox ran unsuccessfully in 1920 with running mate Franklin Delano Roosevelt, only two defeated V-Ps have gone on to even win their party’s nomination. They were Bob Dole and Walter Mondale, both of whom took on hopeless tasks against popular incumbents seeking re-election (Bill Clinton in 1996 and Ronald Reagan in 1984, respectively) and were crushed.

In those two cases, electability trumped ideology, as the out-of-power parties settled for safe, old-school candidates — often the very definition of a vice-presidential nominee.

Palin, however, is as different from a Dole or Mondale as any V-P candidate has ever been. So, if an out-of-power GOP goes looking for a safe, electable candidate in 2012, it’s not going to be her.

But the shrinking GOP, increasingly dominated by conservative ideologues, might instead embrace a self-styled maverick. If so, New Hampshire figures to lead the way. After all, the state rejected both Dole and Mondale in the primary, instead choosing Pat Buchanan in ’96 and Gary Hart in ’84.

New Hampshire prefers its candidates outside of the mold, and Palin has every chance of tapping into that. Perhaps she has even been anointed to do so.

To read the “Talking Politics” blog, go to thePhoenix.com/talkingpolitics. David S. Bernstein can be reached at dbernstein@phx.com.

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