McCain Plays to the Middle, Fails to Deliver

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McCain Plays to the Middle, Fails to Deliver

Emily Douglas

John McCain's acceptance speech tonight offered rhetoric, but not much policy, for moderates.

Sharing a compelling and detailed story of his time as a prisoner of war and articulating the principles of the Republican Party, John McCain’s rhetoric reached out both to the Republican base and to undecided voters in his nomination acceptance speech tonight.  McCain didn’t speak at length about any of the religious right’s favorite topics, though he did invoke the "culture of life" (moments before pledging to support "more choices to make for yourself").

But on MSNBC, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson argued that rhetoric aside, McCain didn’t offer any specific policy prescriptions that would lure moderates:

… The policy in the speach was rather typical for a Republican, pretty disappointing, it didn’t do a lot of outreach to moderates, and independents, on issues that they care about, it talked about issues like drilling and school choice, which was really speaking to the converted. I think that was a missed opportunity. Many Americans needed to hear from this speech, something they’ve never heard from Republicans before. In reality, a lot of the policy, they’ve heard from Republicans before. … But when you look at what he needed to do, he needed to say to Americans, I’m not a typical Republican, this is what I’m going to do to bring that reform message to make it real. Tonight was not particularly interesting, innovative or promising. … It was the speech of someone who talked about being a past maverick. 


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McCain’s biggest applause lines came when he mentioned Sarah Palin, the new darling of the far-right delegates in the convention hall.

Can Sarah Palin reach moderates and women voters?  Recent polling  suggests that Palin hasn’t been the bait for women that the GOP might have hoped she would be. National polling conducted September 2 and 3 found that women voters "were impressed with Palin’s poise and confidence, but wonder what she stood for and how she would address America’s most pressing problems."

The poll from Women’s Voices, Women’s Vote, said the following:

The nomination of Sarah Palin for Vice President last night gave the Republican Party and John McCain a real jolt at the heels of a Democratic Convention watched by tens of millions of Americans. Commentators and advocates made strong arguments that Palin’s historic place on the ticket indicated a serious bid to woo women voters, particularly disaffected Hillary Clinton voters. Women’s Voices. Women Vote Action Fund (WVWVAF), a group dedicated to bringing unmarried women into the electorate, wanted to gauge if Palin is generating enthusiasm among women, both in terms of their participation in the election and for the GOP ticket itself.  But in a national survey of 1356 women – 1295 likely women voters – conducted between September 2-3 and focus groups conducted following Palin’s acceptance speech by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for WVWVAF, we found mixed results. Overall, while the selection of Palin is seen positively by women voters, it is also the case that her selection has given little lift to the Republican ticket and significant questions remain about her to be answered. Women voters – married and unmarried alike – were impressed with Palin’s poise and confidence, but wonder what she stood for and how she would address America’s most pressing problems.

Sen. Clinton spoke up following the McCain speech as she prepares to campaign for Obama-Biden next week. She said:

The two party conventions showcased vastly different directions for our country. Sen. Obama and Sen. Biden offer the new ideas and positive change American needs and deserves after eight years of failed Republican leadership. Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin do not. After listening to all the speeches this week, I heard nothing that suggests the Republicans are ready to fix the economy for middle class families, provide quality affordable health care for all Americans, guarantee equal pay for equal work for women, restore our nation’s leadership in a complex world, or tackle the myriad of challenges our country faces. So to slightly amend my comments from Denver, No way. No how. No McCain-Palin.