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Sarah Palin and Women Voters: Not a Lock

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If the election goes Dick Wadhams’ way, “security moms” will restore to old glory a Republican Party that’s been battered in recent years. But Wadhams, the chairman of Colorado’s GOP, didn’t get today’s bad-news memo regarding what women think of John McCain’s running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Just 20 percent of women surveyed by Garin Hart Young Research Group, on behalf of EMILY’s List, a grassroots organization for women that’s particularly fond of Democrats, believe Republican presidential contender McCain chose Palin for her experience and qualifications.

Fifty-nine percent of women think McCain made the selection for political gain instead. Moreover, only 35 percent of women say McCain understands issues important to women. That’s versus 53 percent for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

EMILY’s released the results in a teleconference this morning, a challenge to theorists such as Wadhams, who in this Wall Street Journal blog argues that droves of suburban women crave fiscally conservative candidates who are tough on national security and aggressive on drilling for oil. Add the rising-star, fairy-tale story of Palin, who takes center stage tonight with a speech at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and it’s a dream ticket.

The CliffsNotes version of Palin’s story is that of a hard-working Christian, loving wife, and gorgeous mother of five children who became the mayor of an Alaska city and soon rose to be the state’s illustrious governor.

But another narrative–one that removes the rose-colored glasses–sways women in the survey. After all, Palin, 44, was mayor of sleepy, tiny Wasilla, Alaska. She has been governor of her state less than two years and has no international experience. Either skeptically or cynically considered, Palin also figures into McCain’s campaign strategy of aggressively attempting to grab as many of Senator Hillary Clinton’s alienated women he can get following nasty primaries with Obama.

Palin additionally opposes abortion–even in cases of incest and rape–and would overturn Roe v. Wade.

The old abortion wedge issue has won both Palin, and McCain by extension, strong allies, including James Dobson, the evangelical patriarch of Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family. But according to the EMILY’s survey, the abortion issue is a turn-off to women voters. Call it the “Juno” factor, for the acclaimed film in which the leading teenage character decides against abortion, but still has a choice to make.

Once told of Palin’s stand on abortion, 56 percent of women had a less favorable view of her than before the survey. Only 29 percent of women had a more favorable view.

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