Democrats may not want to believe it but there is fresh evidence that the addition of Sarah Palin, the "hockey mom" Governor of Alaska, to John McCain's ticket is winning him women voters in droves.
In a tidal shift that could prove decisive, enormous numbers of women who previously favoured Barack Obama have had their heads turned since the introduction of Mrs Palin, according to a new ABC/Washington Post poll.
The Palin phenomenon shows no signs of fading, in spite of a drip-drip of news revelations that hardly flatter her. Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that after becoming Governor in 2006, Mrs Palin started charging taxpayers a "per diem" allowance for days she spent in her private home in the town of Wasilla, where she was once mayor, instead of in the mansion in Juneau that she has never cared for.
Nor does there seem to be much room left for Mrs Palin to defend her claims repeated in Republican television advertisements that she opposed the now infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" project in Alaska, with clear evidence that, at first, she supported the wasteful scheme.
But for now, at least, women seem to be falling in love with Mrs Palin. They are not the only ones. A Gallup poll last night showed Mr McCain opening a 15-point lead over Mr Obama among independent voters who are not members of either of the main parties.
However, it is the hockey mom wars that will preoccupy the generals of both camps. While white women favoured Mr Obama over McCain before the conventions by 50-42 per cent, the picture today is dramatically reversed, according to the Washington Post/ABC survey. Now they back Mr McCain 53-41 per cent. That is a 20-point change.
"Your poll is wrong," David Plouffe, the Obama campaign chief flatly told a Washington Post reporter on hearing the numbers. "I don't think you'll find many others that back up a 20-point reversal. We certainly are not seeing any movement like that. Polls, from time to time, particularly on the demographic stuff, can have some pretty wild swings."
At Obama HQ in Chicago, they certainly hope so. Yet there can no longer be any doubt that the race has been transformed since the end of the St Paul convention and that it can be traced back to the anointing of Mrs Palin, the "lipstick pitbull", and the blinding rock star status she has since assumed. Mr McCain's campaign events are drawing crowds the likes of which he has never seen before.
The question, however, is whether it is a love affair that will last. The Obama ticket has several avenues of retaliation, including deploying women surrogates to try to plug the dam. Hillary Clinton was in Florida speaking for him on Monday and plans are afoot to send forth Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri soon.
Rather than attacking Mrs Palin directly, they will try to focus voters' attention on matters of policy, in particular those women who voted for Mrs Clinton, whose policy priorities are just about diametrically opposed to Sarah Palin's.
If the McCain menagerie cannot believe its luck, it is not admitting to it. Strategists have seen a doubling in just seven days of "Women for McCain", female grassroots volunteers for his candidacy. They are now to be deployed across the swing states to canvass for him every Monday evening between now and election day. (Monday is when most husbands and boyfriends are watching football on TV.)
By joining it, Mrs Palin has become just the ticket for Senator McCain, even though a few Republicans still fret she might overshadow him. "She's a daring and exciting pick that has really rejuvenated support and respect for Senator McCain," campaign spokeswoman Crystal Benton said. "When she said she'd 'stand up to the ol' boys network in Washington,' that really inspired a lot of women."
In a sign of the campaign's growing confidence in her, final details have been agreed for the Governor not simply to give a sit-down interview with ABC, as was originally expected, but to give the network's main anchor, Charlie Gibson, full access over two days beginning tomorrow in Alaska.
Gibson should, however, also have the opportunity to ask some pointed questions. Particularly the per diems claimed by the Governor when she reportedly spent 312 nights in Wasilla over 19 months. Also her husband, Todd, reportedly claimed expenses from the state for trips that he made.
Can soccer moms really swing US elections?
Sixteen years ago, Bill Clinton's campaign mastermind Mark Penn identified "soccer moms" as a key group of voters. This group of white, suburban, middle-class voters – so-called because they spent a significant amount of time ferrying children to and from sports activities – helped propel Bill Clinton into the White House.
In 2004, George Bush's then strategist Karl Rove focused on the so-called "security moms" who could be scared into voting Republican by playing up fears of terrorism after 9/11. This backfired because there were not enough of them to influence the race. Democratic women were more interested in healthcare, which John Kerry failed to talk about, so they failed to vote for him.
In 2008, pollsters have settled on the phrase "Sex and the City voters", because of the surge of interest among unmarried women. Barack Obama has consistently polled well among women voters, even if Hillary Clinton won the lion's share. Two months ago the polls showed them overwhelmingly supporting Mr Obama over John McCain.
The arrival of self-styled "hockey mom" Sarah Palin may be changing that. But the surge of interest in her among women, as reflected in the latest polls, also reveals that there is no such thing as a monolithic "female vote". The single, low-income women who turned out for Mrs Clinton – some 18 million – are increasingly balanced by Republican women, ecstatic about Mrs Palin's deeply conservative religious views.
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