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Palin effect: Obama camp thrown off stride

The week has shown perils for Obama in running against the new GOP ticket.

By Staff writer / September 11, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama appeared on CBS's 'Late Show With David Letterman' on Wednesday night.

JEFFREY R STAAB/AP

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Washington

In just two weeks, the 2008 presidential race has become the Sarah Palin election.

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How can Democratic nominee Barack Obama, no longer the shiny new object in American politics, recapture his mojo, some worried liberals are asking. For Republican nominee John McCain, the feisty, charismatic Alaska governor has fulfilled his fondest wish: to inject a little star power into his own campaign and give his ticket a fighting chance in an otherwise dreadful year for the GOP.

Even Karl Rove, President Bush’s former political guru and now an informal adviser to the McCain campaign, has some advice for the Democrat: “If Mr. Obama wants to win,” he writes in The Wall Street Journal, “he needs to remember he’s running against John McCain for president, not Mrs. Palin for vice president.”

Obama already knows that, it appears. After Palin’s selection on Aug. 29, the Illinois senator suggested the best approach was just to leave her alone. But the Obama campaign has been going after her, producing an ad, for example, that challenges her image as a reformer by pointing out that she initially supported the congressional earmark for Alaska’s so-called “bridge to nowhere” before she opposed it.

And leading Democrats – including Obama’s running mate, Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden – have made comments now spun in the media as sexist. Senator Biden has called her “good-looking,” albeit in an effort at self-deprecation over his own looks. This week, in a local TV appearance in Milwaukee, Biden said the election of the McCain-Palin ticket would be a “backward step for women,” because “I assume she thinks and agrees with the same policies that George Bush and John McCain think.”

On Wednesday, South Carolina Democratic chair Carol Fowler said to Politico.com that Palin’s “primary qualification seems to be that she hasn’t had an abortion,” a reference to Palin’s decision to have her baby who was diagnosed with Down syndrome. Ms. Fowler later apologized, saying she was clumsily making a point about single-issue voters.

Then there’s Obama’s “lipstick on a pig” comment. McCain backers say Obama was taking a dig at Palin, who had quipped in her convention speech that a hockey mom is a pit bull with lipstick. Obama insists that was not his intention – he was talking about Senator McCain’s policies – but the McCain campaign ran with it and fed it into the larger narrative of alleged Obama and Democratic sexism toward Palin.

The string of comments represents only a tiny fraction of what Obama and the Democrats have said and done this week, but they show the perils that Obama has faced in running against a ticket containing a woman.

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