Post Politics Hour

Ben Pershing Blogger, Capitol Briefing
Friday, August 29, 2008; 11:00 AM

Don't want to miss out on the latest in politics? Start each day with The Post Politics Hour. Join in each weekday morning at 11 a.m. as a member of The Washington Post's team of White House and congressional reporters answers questions about the latest in buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

Capitol Briefing Blogger Ben Pershing was online Friday, Aug. 29 at 11 a.m. ET.

The transcript follows.

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Ben Pershing: Wow, a nice quiet day between the conventions, right? McCain has picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, a surprising and fascinating choice. Oh, and Obama gave a big speech last night. Lots to discuss, so away we go...


Reston, VA: So, uh, who in the world is Sarah Palin? (Yes, the governor of Alaska, but really?) I know McCain wants Alaska oil, but wouldn't a VP with strong ties to the state create a serious conflict of interest?

I can only imagine that this is an effort to court Hillary Clinton's supporters who don't want to vote for Obama (though I can't say I understand that mindset, and I'm a woman who voted for Hillary in the Virginia primary).

Ben Pershing: The whole world is going to know a whole lot more about Palin in fairly short order. She was the mayor of Wasilla until being elected governor in 2006, and she has made a point of rooting out corruption in the state since then. Yes, she supports drilling and the Alaska energy industry, but she has made her name as a reformer on that front, so I'm not sure whether attacks on her being too cozy with oil companies will stick.


Palin?: So McCain picks a woman, a young woman at that. How will he deflate the issue of whether she would be able to be president with her background? I feel he chose a woman mainly to try to entice more of Clinton's supporters.

Ben Pershing: It seems like a fair guess that McCain is hoping to reach out to disillusioned Hillary Clinton supporters with this pick. Will it work? Yes, Palin's a woman with an interesting profile. But she's also pretty conservative (anti-abortion, for example) so how many of Hillary's supporters will really be willing to cross the aisle to vote for the GOP ticket? As for being a young woman, her age is probably an asset to the historically old (for a presidential nominee) McCain. Her experience level is the real question.


Raleigh NC: Why Sarah Palin? I don't understand. She fully supported the oil windfall taxes in Alaska, causing oil companies to shut down plans for exploration and refining. BP has ceased exploration on any state land. McCain has very vocally opposed exactly this type of taxation on oil companies, and Obama has supported it. So this selection for Veep by McCain surprises me. Why would he select a Veep that is so much closer to his opponent's agenda on such a volatile election issue?

Ben Pershing: Maybe this is a compromise by McCain -- he picked a VP with an independent streak who has differed with the parties on some issues, but is not as liberal or unpalatable to conservatives as, say, Joe Lieberman.


Fairfax: Any of the Post reporters have Palin in the pool?

Ben Pershing: Honestly, no (and gambling is illegal). How amazing is it that both presidential candidates were able to keep their picks secret right up until the announcement? Biden wasn't a "surprise" pick like Palin, but no one in the media was able to nail it down until the end.

What is the world coming to?


Mt. Lebanon PA: So what does Sean Parnell do now? He can't take Sarah Palin's job as governor of Alaska and Don Young's job as sole Congressman from Alaska.

You don't hear anyone on the morning yakchats discussing that dilemma. Because east coast media types don't do their political homework throughout the U.S.A.

Thanks much. Ex-pat Alaskan

Ben Pershing: Well, we East Coast media types have been on this story for all of about 20 minutes, so I'm sure the implications for Alaska politics will be hashed out before too long. And as I wrote in yesterday's Post, it will likely be weeks before we know whether Parnell or Rep. Don Young won the GOP primary for the House seat. If Parnell loses that race, he could slide right into Palin's job.

Of course, if McCain/Palin loses, she'll stay right where she is.


Washington: I think any questions about her age and experience should be immediately compared to Obama's age and experience. By any measure (except, of course, wowing crowds in rock stadiums), she's way ahead. She substantive and she's a reformer who's actually delivered the change Obama only promises. I'm delighted.

Ben Pershing: That will be exactly the message the McCain campaign promotes. But for all her work in Alaska as governor, the bottom line is she's been in the job less than two years and before that was mayor of a small town (population around 5,500). So you will definitely hear the Obama campaign make the case that she is less experienced than he is. And what about her credentials on foreign policy/commander in chief? I'm not saying she can't be president, just that Democrats will raise that question.


Elmwood Park, NJ: Dumb, dumb, dumb. If it had to be a woman, shoulda been Kay Bailey Hutchinson, who would have been a strong and feisty running mate. This is a GOP version of Geraldine Ferraro.

Ben Pershing: Kay Bailey Hutchison is strong and feisty, but also has a fair number of critics within the Senate GOP. She has some enemies within the party, and she has never really gotten along with McCain well, either.


Washington, DC: Another question on Alaska politics: Now that Senator Stevens has won his primary, is he still as determined to stay in the race? Is there any pressure on him to drop out? If he does, how does that affect the ballot in Alaska?

Ben Pershing: Stevens is staying the race for now and is apparently hoping that he can get exonerated in his corruption trial, which starts Sept. 22. Quite a gamble by him.

_______________________ Stevens Cruises, Young In A Dead Heat (The Washington Post)

Ben Pershing: Here's the story on the Young and Stevens primary campaigns from yesterday. Note that Palin was the one who really pushed Parnell to challenge Young.


Boston MA: I can't believe that I am asking this - feminist as I am. But how is the family values crowd going to like the idea of Palin taking on a national VP campaign and possibly the office itself, with a 5 month old baby?

And as a women myself - HOW is she going to take on a national VP campaign and possibly the office itself with only a 5 month old baby? I'm really impressed.

Ben Pershing: Palin's family obligations -- she has five children, and the five-month-old has Down's Syndrome -- mistakenly led some of us in the media to think that she wouldn't accept the VP slot if it was offered. It's obviously a big sacrifice she's making here and some voters may question her choice. But others will be impressed by her background and identify with her juggling act between family and work.

She also has a son in the Army who is being deployed to Iraq.


Sarah Barracuda: She wasn't even on Cillizza's final Veepstakes line. Does The Fix get punished for failure to anticipate such things?

Ben Pershing: I would heartily endorse having The Fix punished for missing the Palin pick. I think he should compose a long song about his error and sing it on the next live webcast he hosts from the GOP convention.


DC: Ben,

Wikipedia had the news up before the Post, what's up with that? Kidding of course, I do have a comment. Palin is actually as experienced or more than Obama. Two terms to city council, ethics commissioner for Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (which she resigned from after blowing the whistle on her fellow repubs) and Governor. And she isn't even running for president. I think it is a great choice, the biggest drawback being her stance on abortion. She is very pro life and will need to tone that down.

Ben Pershing: When you say she "will need to tone that down," for which audience? The majority of Republicans want an anti-abortion ticket. Every step she takes to "tone down" her stance might attract some Democrats but also might alienate just as many Republicans.


DC: Okay, Ben, in the questions you've gotten so far, I've read a few times about how Palin in a reformer, making change, blah blah blah.

Can we get some evidence of these claims? Repeating it doesn't make it so.

Ben Pershing: We will hear a lot more about her gubernatorial record in the next few hours. But I can tell you, from covering Congress, that her step to push a primary challenge against Rep. Don Young -- who has been in the House for 35 years and is one of the kings of the state -- was a VERY bold move for any governor to take, much less one who hadn't been in office all that long. Taking on Young in a public way, because of the corruption allegations against him, seems like pretty strong evidence to start with.


Detroit: I'm just shocked. A virtual unknown. A Washington outsider. This is really revolutionary -- and speaks to McCain's political courage.

But how will she fare in a debate with Biden, the old pro?

Ben Pershing: I have no idea whether Palin is a good debater. If she is not a champion debater the McCain campaign may seek to frame that as evidence that she's a fresh face, not a 30-year Senator, etc.

And the dynamic when a woman debates a man can be interesting. Fairly or not, if a male candidate attacks a woman in a debate it can come off differently -- and be covered differently -- than when two men are squaring off. Remember the perception that Rick Lazio "bullied" Hillary Clinton during their Senate campaign debate in 2000?


Columbia, MD: Tell me what you think about my pet theory: this isn't really about Hillary Clinton voters (or even swing voters), but rather about internal party politics. McCain wanted Lieberman or Ridge and the GOP faithful wanted a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. The solution: a "bold" conservative.

Ben Pershing: A good theory. Palin is, in some ways, a compromise between who McCain reportedly really wanted to pick (Lieberman) and the more conventional candidates some in the party establishment wanted him to pick (Romney or Pawlenty).


Washington, DC: Ask yourself this:

If McCain is elected president and dies of a heart attack on January 21st, would you really want a ex-small town mayor and one term governor from a state with no major metropolitan areas to lead a nation of 300 million people through wars, economic (hopefully) recovery, health care and education reform, etc., etc. etc?

I didn't think it was possible, but that thought scares me more than if W could run for a 3rd term.

Ben Pershing: The Obama campaign hopes everyone will ask themselves that exact question, but won't actually raise the question itself because it would be in terrible taste. Neither side can actually raise the possibility that the other guy might die in office. But everyone should think about it -- that's really why the vice presidency exists.


Harrisonburg, VA: What about this rumored Sarah Palin-corruption investigation? Is this true? Will it hurt her?

Ben Pershing: There is an investigation underway in Alaska into the allegation that Palin improperly dismissed the state Commissioner of Public Safety. The story is complicated, and there is no credible evidence at this point she did anything wrong, but the Alaska Legislature is investigating. Google "Palin" and "Walter Monegan" to get more details.

I assume the McCain campaign looked at this issue pretty closely and must have somehow been convinced that she will be cleared. But you never know.


Kingstowne, VA: It seems to me this is the first presidential race in a while that both candidates have weaknesses so glaring that they named veeps who seem to be exact complements. McCain=old; Palin=young. Obama=no experience; Biden=Washington insider. Is this really the case, or have I been hanging out with the Nuge too long?

Ben Pershing: Hello Kingstowne! This definitely has been an interesting contrast with, say, Clinton picking Gore. There's always a debate about whether you should pick a running mate who amplifies your existing profile/message, or a candidate who brings attributes you don't have. Obama/Biden is definitely in the latter category, and McCain/Palin mostly is too, except they both present themselves as "mavericks" and reformers.


Arlington: McCain had to know the media reaction to Obama's speech would be OVERWHELMINGLY positive. Is the timing of the Palin pick designed to shorten the media cycle talking about the speech?

If so, pretty deft.

Ben Pershing: Yes, I think that's a big reason why McCain planned to announce the pick today. Just look at this chat: Obama and Democrats put on a huge, historic spectacle last night, and yet almost all of the questions I'm getting are about the Republicans.


Boston, MA: I want to thank the Washington Post for all the high-quality campaign coverage, but particularly the work done this week. My question -- what was all the fuss about the set? Didn't look pompous or Greek to my television set. Just looked tasteful, serious, vaguely government building like. Do the critics appear vaguely foolish for their over-the-top statements about it?

Ben Pershing: Very kind of you, Boston. Are you the mother of someone who works here? As for the set of Obama's speech last night, it definitely did not end up looking like the Greek Temple that many of us thought it would when it was being constructed. It actually looked a lot more like the White House, which was probably part of his intent.


Arlington, VA: The Hill is reporting that many in the press box cheered Obama's speech ( Not exactly non-partisan, unbiased, we're fair to both sides, independent behavior by these professional, mainstream reporters. Which unbiased professional journalists did you witness cheering Obama? Anyone from the Post's team?

Ben Pershing: I wasn't there at Invesco so I have no idea who, if anyone, in the press box cheered. Obviously reporters should never do that. I've been in that situation before, where you're in some venue where hundreds or thousands of people around you stand and cheer and you just sit and take notes. It's a weird feeling, but shouldn't be hard to pull off for a reporter.


New York: Your response on the ethics investigation question was a joke.

First, why didn't the Post mention it, since it is a -huge- story in Alaska.

Second, the person who was "dismissed" is her brother-in-law, involved in a nasty divorce with her sister.

Is this a newspaper or a McCain blog?

Ben Pershing: Why didn't the Post mention it in the last hour? I can assure you that lots of people are working on Palin stories as we speak and you will see this issue covered in the paper and on the web site. If this is a McCain blog then I definitely walked into the wrong office this morning.


Maryland: Has a presidential candidate ever announced a VP pick, then changed his mind before the election? McGovern's First Crisis: The Eagleton Affair (Time Magazine, Aug. 7, 1972)

Ben Pershing: Yes, in 1972 George McGovern picked Sen Thomas Eagleton, then had to replace him on the ticket when it was revealed that Eagleton had been hospitalized for depression and had undergone electroshock therapy.

Background checks are a lot more detailed nowadays than they used to be,


Chicago, Illinois: If Obama knew McCain was going to pick Palin do you think Biden would have still been the pick?

Ben Pershing: No way to answer that question. It is possible that McCain decided to make an unconventional choice only after seeing that Obama made a conventional one.

Thanks for the great questions everyone. On to the Twin Cities!


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