By DeWayne Wickham
Just when it seemed Hillary Clinton had been pushed onto the back bench of the presidential campaign, she's being asked to step up her appearances on behalf of Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama. The request came in the wake of presidential candidate John McCain's announcement Friday that he'd chosen Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate on the GOP ticket.
The Obama campaign is now talking to Clinton about how often she can stump for Obama, who beat her in a bruising fight for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination and then ignored the please of her supporters to pick the New York senator as his running mate. Instead, Obama chose Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, a foreign policy expert who helps Obama fend off charges that he has little expertise in that area.
But with McCain's pick of Palin, gender will likely trump foreign policy as a pivotal issue in this presidential race - and that's got to worry Obama's campaign.
"We want her to do as much as she is willing to do. She's a great spokesperson for us and for change....We want her to do all that her schedule will permit," David Axelrod, the Obama campaign's chief strategist, told Britain's The Telegraph of the outreach to Clinton.
But getting Clinton to redouble her efforts for Obama is more a matter of need, than want. When the Democratic Party convention got underway last week, nearly one-third of the women who backed Clinton during the primaries said they wouldn't vote for Obama in the general election.
"You haven't worked so hard over the last 18 months, or endured the last eight years, to suffer through more failed leadership. No way. No how. No McCain," Clinton said during last week's Democratic convention in a pointed call for her supporters to rally around Obama.
After that speech many Democratic strategists said Clinton's strong endorsement of Obama - and the alarm she sounded about a McCain presidency - would convince most of her wavering supporters to vote for Obama.
New York Gov. David Paterson told me that Clinton's address would help her disillusioned female supporters get over their disappointment. "The know they don't want John McCain," said Patterson. But he added many women were asking themselves before Clinton's convention address, " ' When is this party going to recognize us? When are they going to stop having an old boy's network?'."
Clinton's call for party unity and an end to the Democratic party's gender divide may have been undermined by McCain's selection of Palin.
Despite Palin's lack of national and foreign policy experience, going after her won't be easy. biden will have to be careful when he squares off with her in the Oct. 2 debate between the vice presidential candidates. He 'll have to tone down the attack mode he displayed in his convention speech. That kind of combativeness with Palin may cause some undecided female voters and some PUMAs, Clinton supporters whose acronym stands for "Party Unity My Ass," to vote for the McCain-Palin ticket.
According to a recent Gallup Poll, this election may be determined by independent white female voters. While Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly support their party's presidential nominees there's a big split among independent white voters. Although independent white men back McCain over Obama, 51 percent to 35 percent, McCain holds a razor-thin lead among independent white women, 42 percent to 41 percent.
The selection of Palin may have already given McCain a small victory. Obama had an 8 point lead (49 percent to 41 percent) over McCain the day after he went before 85,000 people in Denver's Invesco Field to accept his party's presidential nomination. But the following day it dropped 2 points (48 percent to 42 percent) after McCain announced that he'd picked Palin as his running mate.
And now, ironically, the Obama campaign will have to lean heavily on Hillary Clinton - who many Obama staffers vilified during the primary campaign - to help stave off a shift among these female voters to McCain. But Clinton has not rushed to defend the parapet of Obama's campaign.
"We should all be proud of Gov. Sarah Palin's historic nomination, and I congratulate her and Sen. McCain," Clinton said in a statement. "While their policies would take America in the worng direction, Gov. Palin will add an important new voice to the debate."
Palin's introduction into this campaign is a smart tactical move by McCain. Forget about all the pundits who decry her lack of experience in foreign affairs. As this contest is shaping up, inexperience in that area won't matter much to the voter who will decide this election.
With just a little more than two months before voters go to the polls, the outcome of this contest may well depend on how willing - and successful - Clinton will be in convincing disaffected white female voters to pick Obama and Biden over McCain and Palin.