Palin's Appeal to Women Could Be a 'Game-Changer,' Say Students at Convention

September 05, 2008

Sept. 5, 2008 — The selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as their vice presidential nominee creates opportunities for Republicans to appeal to women who might otherwise favor Democrats, and Palin's biography as a mother who has raised five children while holding office may peel off enough votes from mothers to lift McCain to victory in November.

That's the opinion of Isaac Wood, a fourth-year University of Virginia student majoring in American politics who attended this week's Republican National Convention in Minneapolis as a research analyst for U.Va.'s Center for Politics.

"More generally, the idea is to make women take a second look at McCain, since ultimately no one votes based on the vice presidents," Wood said.

Wood wrote daily reports on the convention for the center's Crystal Ball Web when he wasn't helping arrange media interviews with Center for Politics director Larry Sabato, who was attending his 18th convention.

The question, Wood said, is whether Palin was chosen with the goal of attracting former Hillary Clinton supporters or shoring up the base of conservative voters who didn't favor McCain during the primary — or both.

"But it would be a real mistake to think that one person with one set of rhetoric could appeal to those two very disparate groups," Wood said.

U.Va. law student Karin Agness, an alternate delegate and founding president of the conservative Network of Enlightened Women, hopes Wood is wrong.

"Many Democratic women are still frustrated about Hillary Clinton's loss," Agness said, "and Palin provides an opportunity for them to reject the Democratic ticket and unite with conservative women behind Palin."

Palin's spot on the ticket "likely will increase the numbers of young women voting in the this election, and increase the numbers of them voting for the Republican ticket," she said.

Agness was an alternate delegate representing her home state of Indiana, where she first began working in politics during high school. In the summer of 2004, while a U.Va. undergraduate, she interned for U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind. — "a fabulous experience" that spurred her decision to found NEW.

"In Washington, I really enjoyed being around conservative women in politics," she said. "When I returned to U.Va., I couldn't find a similar group to spend time with, so I decided to create one."

NEW has spread rapidly in the four years since its founding, with chapters on 15 campuses from Florida to Arizona and an annual national conference in Washington. This summer's conference featured Danielle Crittenden, the author of "What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman."

As a voice for young conservative women, Agness fielded inquiries from several journalists looking for reactions to Palin. She did interviews at the Convention with CNN, Politico, Congressional Quarterly, Glamour magazine and several radio stations.

Reflecting on her experience, Agness said, "As a young person who really enjoys following politics and participating in politics, this is the chance of a lifetime."