She chucked her famously expensive designer clothes, ditched some campaign-approved comments, and, on Sunday, Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin donned blue jeans and before a packed arena in Asheville, N.C., sang along lustily to the country hit "Redneck Woman."
(Refrain: "I'm a redneck woman; I ain't no high-class broad.")
The down-home sing-along with country artist Gretchen Wilson, and Monday's appearance before several thousand supporters in the woods of Virginia, came as John McCain's running mate has appeared increasingly determined to shake off the strictures of her handlers—not to mention her Nieman Marcus outfits. And it comes at a time when the Alaska governor is seeking to preserve her unique brand, which just two months ago was crucial to energizing the GOP base but now is under attack even within the McCain-Palin campaign.
For days, the "Blame Palin" faction in McCain's struggling effort has been taking potshots at the Alaska governor, whose popularity has plummeted in national polls but remains strong on the stump. She's a "diva" who is "off message" and lacks understanding of issues. And, shockingly, she's looking out for her "own political future." And why shouldn't she? Election Day is just a week away, and with a McCain victory looking like a long shot by any current measure, Palin's supporters envision the 44-year-old mother of five emerging as a player for years to come, someone who could battle Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for party primacy.
What has emerged is a parallel "Blame the McCain campaign" faction—chief among them Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol and former Reagan national campaign director Ed Rollins, who also chaired Huckabee's presidential run this year. Though Palin has been roundly criticized for her lack of experience, particularly with foreign issues, and for her stumbling performance during interviews with CBS's Katie Couric, there has been a growing consensus among a cadre of conservative strategists that it has been McCain's powerful campaign strategists who messed things up.
And, without debating whether Palin is prepared to lead the country if necessary (polls show that a majority of Americans don't think so), the strategists have been arguing that her campaign has been handled badly in several ways:
- Because Palin achieved instant celebrity at the Republican National Convention and attracted enormous crowds, McCain chose to campaign with her long after nominees typically travel with their running mates. And so McCain, who needed to appeal to independent and moderate voters as well as the base to win, became increasingly tied to the red-meat conservative rhetoric that campaign speechwriters penned for Palin to deliver to true-believer crowds. That damaged McCain, particularly when more extreme members of his audiences were captured on video spouting racist or anti-Muslim slurs.
- Shielding Palin from the press suggested the campaign didn't trust her. It provided fodder for those making the experience case against Palin, and it made the stakes almost impossibly high when she sat down for the few interviews the campaign allowed her to give.
- The campaign and the Republican National Committee set Palin up for the backlash last week after it was reported that the RNC had spent more than $150,000 for her makeup and a new designer wardrobe. Experienced political hands made the outlays, which showed up on campaign expense reports. Palin has said she never shopped for the clothes and did not know their cost. On Sunday, she told a rally crowd that she was back to wearing her own clothes purchase at her "favorite consignment shop in Anchorage."
- And, bottom line, McCain picked Palin. If his campaign has a problem with who she is and what her credentials are, one strategist said today, they need to take it up with the boss.
So is Palin now looking out for herself as the "Blame Palin" game takes aim? To quote the final line of "Redneck Woman": "Hell, yeah!"