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Students: Palin Hasn’t Rocked the Vote

While Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) is set to face Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) tonight in the lone vice presidential debate of the campaign, talk has faded about the breadth and depth of the “Palin Effect” on downballot races.

One month after being selected for the GOP ticket, Palin has solidified the conservative base behind Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and shored up some Republican candidates in traditionally conservative territory.

But has she attracted additional young female voters into the Republican fold, as GOP leaders hoped when she joined McCain’s ticket?

Student political leaders in the Washington, D.C., region — including those at the University of Virginia, where a competitive House race involving Rep. Virgil Goode (R) is taking place — differ about Palin’s impact on campus and local politics.

“I know here at Georgetown, Sarah Palin has really had an enormous effect,” Georgetown University College Republicans Chairwoman Ellen Dargie said. “She’s really energized the youth vote, the female vote. She’s really getting people to want to get involved, to want to volunteer, to watch the speeches.”

But bold talk about Palin swinging disaffected supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) presidential bid into the McCain column has largely faded.

Since Palin was named, University of Virginia College Democrats Chairwoman Sarah Buckley said, students have only gained a distaste for the Republican ticket because it appears that McCain chose her mainly because of her gender.

“I’ve had several acquaintances I know who were Hillary Clinton supporters [in the Democratic primaries] who immediately after the Sarah Palin pick were just insulted,” Buckley said. “The vast majority of people I’ve talked to say it’s simply a pander, and Sarah Palin doesn’t speak to women’s issues at all.”

Buckley said that the negative response to Palin among young female college students is partially due to the city of Wasilla’s policy of charging victims of sexual assault for rape kits. Palin was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.

Anna Greenberg, a pollster for the Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, said the antipathy of many young women to Palin shouldn’t come as a surprise because most young voters are liberals.

“The under-30 group is overall the least favorable to her,” Greenberg said. “There isn’t a huge number of young, conservative women in the electorate.”

But at the University of Virginia, Savanna Rutherford, who leads the College Republicans, said Palin is a nontraditional VP nominee with wide appeal.

“I mean, she’s young, and she’s very different than someone who would normally be nominated,” Rutherford said. “She’s younger than the average vice presidential candidate, she’s female, and she’s so conservative and she definitely brings in a portion of the Republican base that McCain has been having trouble with on his own.”

Both Rutherford and Buckley said it’s hard to measure Palin’s impact on downballot races in Virginia — including the House race involving Goode and attorney Tom Perriello (D) and the high-profile but not particularly competitive Senate race involving former Govs. Mark Warner (D) and former Jim Gilmore (R).

“You would have to look at that on a campaign-by-campaign basis,” said Rutherford, who added that Gilmore, who is trailing Warner badly in the Senate race, saw a small spike in his poll numbers after Palin joined McCain’s ticket.

Buckley said Warner’s lead is impenetrable and that his presence on the ticket has much more impact for races in Virginia than Palin’s.

“Mark Warner is just so well-respected in Virginia, nothing can dent his margin,” Buckley said. “Mark Warner is quintessentially Virginia, and I think he represents a wide array of people. He has a lot of bipartisan support.”

While Obama has opened up a small lead over McCain since the economic crisis began dominating the headlines, the electorate is still very volatile. Del Ali, president of Research 2000, an independent polling firm, said that the more young people hear Palin talk, “the more they’re turned off by her.”

But he said that while Palin’s appeal thus far has largely been limited to conservatives, tonight’s debate will give her an opportunity to win over more voters.

“If … people get to know her more at the debate, can that appeal expand beyond the Republican base?” Ali said. “Absolutely it can, but right now it isn’t.”

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