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Palin attracts women's interest, not solidarity

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Dianne Diaz is suspicious of John McCain and his vice presidential pick. But she's trying to keep an open mind.

The hospice customer service agent from St. Paul spent the weekend arguing with her 19-year-old son, a fervent Barack Obama supporter, about McCain's surprise VP choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Her gut tells her McCain is making a play for Hillary Rodham Clinton supporters who are still not that keen on the Democratic nominee — like herself. That said, the 52-year-old, who has three children, is not willing to write off the Republican ticket just because she believes Palin, 44, got the job based more on her extra X chromosome than her experience.

"What's she going to be like in a crisis? How would she deal with the war?" asked Diaz, a registered Democrat who had been considering McCain. "I still have to absorb all this. She really has to prove herself to me."

If McCain thought women would automatically embrace the next best shot at getting a woman in the White House, he's got some convincing to do, according to nearly two dozen voters surveyed at the Mall of America on the eve of a scaled-back Republican National Convention.

No doubt about it, the Palin choice was the talker of the weekend, especially at the Twin Cities airport and at the nation's largest shopping mall, as tens of thousands of conventiongoers descended. Even Canadians Lynn Kilfoyle, 56, and daughter Jen Kilfoyle, 27, had discussed McCain's choice and its implications on American politics during their trip to the mall from Winnipeg.

New polls from Rasmussen and Gallup are already suggesting that Palin scores better with men than women. In the Gallup poll, women had a slightly less favorable view of Palin than did men, but they also were slightly more likely to say her choice would prompt them to vote for McCain, USA Today reported.

At the Mall of America, talk of Palin evoked visceral reactions from many women. A die-hard Republican, convention attendee Tomi Ayers, 71, a retiree from Knoxville, Tenn., called it "perfect, absolutely perfect." Obama Democrat Melinda Blevins, a 35-year-old medical assistant, dismissed it as "retaliation, to get a jump on Hillary people."

But reaction from some undecided female voters shopping at a mall famous for its indoor Ferris wheel and roller coaster was more complicated. About a dozen volunteered that they considered the move a political play for women. But they also said they were willing to give Palin an opportunity to make her case.

"I wouldn't go so far as to call it pandering, but I see it as a political strategy," said Jessica Gehring, 23, a Minneapolis auditor who hasn't picked a political party yet but is excited about voting in November. Gehring added that she appreciates that Palin is young and likes that she's a Washington outsider.

Several undecideds, including Karen Ridderman, 49, of Grand Rapids, Mich., said they were perplexed at how someone so unknown and untested could get the nod. But it wasn't a complete turnoff, either.

"I've got an open mind," said Ridderman, an e-commerce travel agent whose company is facing layoffs because of an industry slowdown. "I'm more interested in who's going to turn the economy around than whether a woman is running."

One registered Republican said McCain's choice has so unnerved her that she's newly undecided.

Jaclyn Pagliai, 27, of Minneapolis said she never thought much about any Democrats until Friday. She doesn't understand why McCain would pick someone who has so little experience and is so obviously attractive in what seems to her like a political power grab.

"I just think there's too much controversy surrounding her," said Pagliai, who works at a salon at the Mall of America and cares most about lower taxes, better health care and immigration. "It's really going to be a tossup for me now."

>>fast facts

Local views

Hillsborough Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank, a Democrat and strong Hillary Rodham Clinton supporter, was on the fence about whether to vote for Barack Obama. That is, until John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate.

"It's so obvious that she is not qualified to be vice president. I'm shocked at John McCain's lack of judgment," said Frank, who now intends to vote for Obama.

• • •

On the other hand, Greg Truax, co-chairman of the McCain campaign in Hillsborough, said 20 volunteers signed up after Palin joined the ticket and two former Clinton supporters told them they now expect to vote for McCain.

"First of all, I was shocked," said Republican Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala. "It took me a few hours, but I'm excited. She's a real woman, and might have real appeal. I'm cautiously optimistic."

Adam C. Smith,
Times political editor

Palin attracts women's interest, not solidarity 08/31/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 3, 2008 4:48pm]
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