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Analysis: Palin will need to flesh out 'hockey mom' image

  • Story Highlights
  • Palin must provide specific views on issues voters care about
  • GOP vice presidential nominee's views still largely unknown to voters
  • Palin must also prove to voters she is ready to take on the presidency if necessary
  • Alaska governor still faces questions about her involvement in "trooper-gate"
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By Scott J. Anderson
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ST. PAUL, Minnesota (CNN) -- Gov. Sarah Palin will need to flesh out the image of the "hockey mom" she presented to the Republican National Convention and start to educate voters on what she believes about the issues they care about.

Gov. Sarah Palin will need to expand on her "hockey mom" image.

Gov. Sarah Palin will need to expand on her "hockey mom" image.

Socially conservative, blue-collar voters in the critical swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan are likely to find a lot to like in the moose-hunting, gun-toting, hard-talking mother of five.

But the Alaska governor is still largely an unknown figure, and many voters - particularly independents - will have questions about her views on a range of policy issues.

"The biggest question hanging over Palin: Is she ready to take over as president," CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider said. "She has two months to convince voters she is. She can talk about her experience, but what will count is how she handles herself under the pressure of the campaign."

In her speech to the Republican National Convention, she didn't get into details on the economy, education or higher energy prices, except to call for more drilling offshore and in the North Slope of Alaska.

A CNN Poll conducted August 29-31, the weekend after John McCain picked Palin as a running mate, found that 38 percent of those polled had a favorable opinion of the Alaska governor while 21 percent had an unfavorable view. But 41 percent said they were unfamiliar with Palin. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3 percent.

Voters will want to know more about Palin's social views, particularly her views on abortion, which are to the right of public opinion. Palin's decision not to abort her child after she learned that he had Down syndrome made her a favorite of anti-abortion advocates, but her opposition to abortion rights, including in the cases of rape and incest, may turn off suburban women, particularly those who supported Hillary Clinton. Video Watch what Palin believes on the issues »

Palin, despite her statement Wednesday night that she was not going to Washington to "seek the good opinion" of Washington's elite, will also have to face the media. She has not had any one-on-one interviews since she was tapped as McCain's running mate.

"After the convention, Sarah Palin will face a tough news conference, just as Geraldine Ferraro did in 1984 and Dan Quayle did in 1988," Schneider said. "Ferraro handled her news conference so skillfully, the press effectively declared her innocent even though she really didn't answer all their questions.

"Ferraro provides Palin a model for how to handle the press," he said. "Quayle, not so much."

And Palin will face more questions about her role in the evolving "trooper-gate" scandal in which a former public safety commissioner says he was terminated because he did not fire an Alaska state trooper who was going through a divorce from Palin's sister.

Furthermore, Palin must prepare for her debate with the Democrat's vice presidential nominee, Sen. Joe Biden. Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Policy Committee, has been in the Senate for more than three decades and is considered one of the foremost foreign policy experts in the Capitol. Video Watch Biden say he was impressed by Palin »

He is also known as a skilled debater, but his direct, slashing style may backfire if it appears he is beating up on the Republican's first female vice presidential pick.

Palin will need to show a command of crucial economic and foreign policy challenges facing the country and demonstrate how her experience as an elected official has prepared her to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Palin has served less then two years as Alaska's governor. Before winning her state's stop office, she served on Alaska's oil and gas board and was mayor of her hometown of Wasillia.

She gave a strong speech Wednesday night in her primetime debut, and she has accomplished something that had eluded McCain before the Republican convention: She has fired up the conservative base.

"I did not want that to end last night. ... I didn't want the night to end," conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh said Thursday. "This lady has turned it all around. ... From now on, on this program, John McCain will be known as 'John McBrilliant.'"

Palin appeared completely comfortable with the "attack dog" role often played by vice presidential nominees. In fact, she opened her speech Wednesday night by joking that the only difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull is lipstick. Video Watch Palin slam Obama »

Palin then went on to relentlessly attack the Democratic ticket, including mocking the Barack Obama's time as a community organizer in Chicago.

"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities," Palin said.

The Republican delegates in the hall enthusiastically received the line, but many independent voters may be turned away by Palin's biting, sarcastic tone. Video Watch Paul Begala call Palin's sarcasm unappealing »


"It is clear from tonight's national debut that Sarah Palin may connect extremely well in rural, small-town America, and, no doubt, Republicans will be sending her there in key states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and the like." David Gergen, a CNN senior political analyst, said after Palin's speech. "Her pit bull style -- combined with her humor and presence along with her roots -- will likely draw people to her. Lots of people there will look forward to hearing her in person.

"The question for me is whether she will also appeal in suburban America," he said. "I am not at all certain that she will. Her combative, anti-elitist style along with her staunch conservatism on issues like abortion may just leave a lot of voters cool, if not cold."

CNN's Alan Silverleib contributed to this report.

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