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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

To follow up on what Nate was saying earlier, there is a lot of gamble in the pick. What about the gamble of Palin v. Biden? One reason I’ve been arguing to Nate all week that McCain might need to pick a woman once Biden was picked is that while Biden has the ability to hit hard, would he hit a woman hard? And with specifically Palin, who is young and attractive, does it bait Biden into some kind of stray condescending comment about her youth and looks that would make many people furious, particularly women?

Call it the “gorgeous broad” mentality. Biden’s got a bit of that Sinatra-ism, where he refers to his wife as “drop dead gorgeous” and it sounds like that’s the way Biden most naturally expresses himself. But that’s his wife. Biden can get away with that. With Palin, he might find himself giving a comment that in his mind sounds like a compliment, but comes out all wrong.

And that gets back to the heart of the gamble this pick represents. If McCain and Obama each consolidate their bases at the same percentages, Obama wins. There are now numerically more Democrats, and independents favor Obama. Before the conventions, McCain had moved past Obama, mostly because many women in Hillary Clinton’s coalition had failed to warm to the Democratic nominee. Obama was stuck at 83% of his base and McCain had moved from a tie into 87% consolidation. Had this week’s Denver convention not been as successful from a unity standpoint, McCain might not have needed as much to go for broke. If Obama secures his base, wins indies (as he’s easily doing) and dominates in the ground game, game over for McCain. Demographically, the mountain is too steep to climb.

So what does McCain do? He picks a woman specifically to aim a wedge at the Obama base. It’s a demographic pick – all about gaming the vote and little about governing. This is not the resume of a male candidate that would be acceptable. There is a small but legitimate chance Joe Biden will say something that can be used to call the Obama ticket a sexist one. Biden, of course, will and should be coached to restrain any such “stray comment” impulse in which he is wont to indulge.

But even if Biden (or anyone else) doesn’t take the bait by dismissing her in a condescendingly sexist way, putting a woman on the ticket may give other Democratic women who don’t want to vote for Obama a real reason to cross over. People aren’t as undecided when it comes to politics as they claim, a recent study argues. They just haven’t found an articulable reason to capture their decision. If some Democratic women don’t really want to vote for Obama, identity politics may provide them with an affirmative, articulable reason to do so. McCain is old, and Palin could very easily become the next president by default.

It’s probably not going to work, but we’ll see some number soon. I think it’s a gamble that McCain will lose. But I do respect the gamble. He looked into the numbers, saw the need to freeze Obama’s base or be swamped on the numbers alone, and he took a big risk. Will a pro-life candidate sell those reluctant Democratic women? Again, unlikely. But kick in a few sexist dismissals – particularly any by Joe Sinatra Biden – and the outrage machine might get itself going.

I can tell you this – I suddenly became a lot more excited to be in St. Paul next week.

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