Post-Palin: Where Do We Go From Here, Bubba?

I'm not going to do a whole lot more Sarah Palin stuff -- I have a tendency to go on these tangents and it's about enough. I'm just going to give you my opinion on where this election stands.

As we saw tonight, Palin has a good presence and can give a damn fine speech. She's actually vicious -- I swear she bared her teeth a few times, literally, during the thing. But viciousness can be a political asset if it's done well. And she did it pretty well tonight (Giulliani not as well -- I think his speech had some strong points but came across as a little too nasty ... and nasty doesn't play).

How good is she? She's good enough that such illusory things as facts (and scandal) aren't going to stick to her (it'll have to be a doozy to knock her off -- and the fact that the National Enquirer, fresh off its victory lap on John Edwards, is reporting that she had an affair with her husband's business partner won't cut it unless it's proven). People (myself included) might as well get over fulminating about her. I expected her to be pretty good, but she was better than I thought. And in some ways worse.

By that I mean she declared war tonight. The culture war. She repeated over and over again about how she was from a small town and -- I'm summarizing here -- how dare the liberal big city media tell me or anybody else that I can't be president. (She actually compared herself to Harry Truman at one point.)

Of course, it's a silly argument and one that is unhealthy for America. Hell, Bill Clinton came from a place called Hope. It's not where she's from that has people questioning the pick, it's what she's done (or not done) and the fact that she's clearly not ready to be president of the United States.

But, again, facts and figures don't matter here. It's perception. And this thing is likely going to be close enough that once again the Bubba vote will determine the outcome.

People have their own perceptions of who Bubba really is. My Bubbas aren't deep red (or redneck) folks (speaking of which, Levi cleans up well, don't he?). They are what they are and they don't change. I'm talking about your regular folk, pinkish in color, sometimes even a little purplish. They are registered both ways and don't hesitate to jump parties. They are working class white people, not highly educated, not ideological, simple, self-interested, patriotic. Most of us have at least a little Bubba in us.

Bubba goes with the guy that makes him feel better or the guy that pisses him off the least. Reagan got the Bubba vote in a huge way. Clinton too (hell he inspired the term I believe). GW Bush got them, but in smaller numbers (though I think in the case of Kerry, they were pushed away by the Democratic candidate himself). Bubbas are everywhere, including the suburbs and the cities. But their stronghold in Florida runs along the I-4 corridor. This year the key Bubba vote in America is likely going to come from the west, the new battleground.

Palin, no doubt, is going to help with not only the Republican base, but also the Bubba vote. She is a Bubba herself, after all. But Biden plays pretty well with that crowd too. The debate is going to play a role.

Tonight may very well be Palin's high point, mind you. She's a heavyweight attack dog, but an absolute lightweight on issues -- and a total neophyte on the national stage. This fact doesn't concern the GOP; in fact, it's ideal for the powerful string pullers behind the scenes. Since she knows so little about the larger economy and foreign affairs, they know she'll basically be forced to do as she's told.

Bubba -- who is no member of the Republican base -- might have another take. There's a good chance he'll see through her pit-bull with lipstick schtick and see that there's no presidential mettle underneath. Biden has her on the presidential thing and I honestly believe the two of them could wind up a draw.

[By the way, Campbell Brown is having a hissy fit right now about Harry Reed calling Palin's speech "shrill." She actually said she's never heard that word used to describe a man before and is implying that it's a sexist thing. I don't know about you, but I've heard men, women, newspapers, networks, and everything else described as shrill.]

It's easy to overstate the Palin effect. Bubba, after all, votes for the president, not the VP. So how's it going to play between Obama and McCain? McCain is going to have the edge, especially if he can corner the market on optimism (you know, that old Reagan magic he's trying to conjure). Bubbas like optimism. Yes, race will play a role. Bubba usually isn't outright racist, or at least wouldn't consider himself as such. But it's not going to be easy for some Bubbas to vote for a black man.

Obama doesn't need to win the Bubba vote, he just needs a good piece of it. And Bubba is pissed this year. The economy is in the toilet and getting worse. He doesn't like the fact that all our money has gone to Iraq. The truth is that the abject failure of George W. Bush might just be enough to make Bubba elect the first American black president.

This election is going to be a lot more like Gore-Bush than Kerry-Bush. Kerry didn't get a huge base out so he needed serious Bubba power -- and lost it in glorious fashion. Gore fired up a strong base, powered in large part by a stoked and voluminous black vote. He just didn't get quite enough of the Bubba vote to put him well over the top (and out of the U.S. Supreme Court's reach).

Obama is going to have a huge base coming out for him, including what might be record numbers of both young and black voters. That's why it was so important for McCain to fire up the base with the Palin pick -- without it, he didn't stand a chance. McCain, I believe, also needs to win Bubba in very strong fashion to win the election.

Can he do it? With Palin his chance is better, that's for sure. Let the games continue.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman