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Commentary: How Palin changed the game

  • Story Highlights
  • Ed Rollins: Sen. Barack Obama looked almost unbeatable in July
  • Choice of Sarah Palin has energized Sen. John McCain's campaign, Rollins says
  • Rollins: Obama campaign was wrong to question Palin's experience
  • This campaign may be one in which the VP choice could swing the race, Rollins says
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By Ed Rollins
CNN Contributor
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Editor's note: Ed Rollins, who served as political director for President Reagan, is a Republican strategist who was national chairman of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign.

Ed Rollins says voters don't care whether Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin knows about the Bush doctrine.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- It seems like just yesterday when Sen. Barack Obama impressed our troops in Kuwait by shooting his flawless three-pointer into the basket without hitting the rim.

Two days later, he spoke to 200,000 Berliners. It looked like he could do no wrong and the campaign was only a formality on his way to inauguration day.

But it wasn't yesterday. It was the third week in July, and that's a lifetime ago in presidential politics.

Obama looked unbeatable then. He looked unbeatable the night of his acceptance speech before 85,000 cheering supporters. If victory went to the guy who could make the best speech or could win the schoolyard basketball game of "horse," he was thought to be unstoppable.

Then his world stopped with Sen. John McCain's shocking selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for the vice presidential nomination. And over the last two weeks, the governor of Alaska has deflected the arc of Obama's campaign. She can match his pretty words. The outdoor game has changed from "horse" to "moose," and only one candidate in this race has shot "moose."

Obama's campaign diminished itself by challenging her experience. The candidate who ranked 99th in Senate seniority, with one of the thinnest resumes ever when he began his presidential quest, looked foolish challenging a governor who made decisions every day while he was missing votes in the Senate running for president.

The good news for Obama is the Europeans still want him to be our president. Unfortunately for him they don't vote here, and the independent voters who do are shifting to McCain-Palin.

The other good news for Obama is that this race is far from over. But he is not going to win by telling voters McCain is too old and doesn't know how to use the Internet. Many of McCain's supporters are old and could care less about the Internet.

What the country wants to know is do these candidates understand what's going on in their lives and in their neighbors' lives, and are they willing to try and fix it.

They want to get our soldiers home from Iraq as quickly as possible and leave that country as stable as it can be without us being there for another decade. They want someone who understands ordinary Americans are hurting and will try to find solutions to the economic mess we are in.

The leading "mainstream media" including ABC's condescending Charlie Gibson and The New York Times' Maureen Dowd have raced "North to Alaska" to find out what makes this woman tick. But alas, they show again and again that they just don't get it.

Nobody cares if Palin knows the Bush doctrine. I defy anyone to tell you what the Bush-Cheney strategy has been over the last seven years (other than getting re-elected) or what doctrine has been practiced by this "gang that can't shoot straight." And who cares? They are gone in 126 days.

What the media doesn't get is that Palin is one of us. She got to the top of the heap because she could relate to ordinary people, because she is ordinary people and through extraordinary efforts made it.

She's got kids; she worked her way through college (state college like most of us). Her husband is a working stiff.

She started at the bottom and worked her way to the top by being better, not prettier. She did her job at the top by being smarter and tougher than the good old boys who stood in her way.

One thing we do know is Palin is not going to look into the eyes of her neighbor across the Bering Sea and say Vladimir Putin's an honest man.

What she's going to see is a fearless adversary who we need to be wary of. Equally important, if she is elected, she's not going to be one of the boys in D.C. Behind her charm is a certain toughness. And that's a good thing.

The charisma of Palin was even evident on "Saturday Night Live" this weekend. There in the opening skit was Sarah Palin (played by her wonderful look-alike Tina Fey) opposite Hillary Clinton (played by "SNL" regular Amy Poehler).

Even though it was a spoof, Palin stood out. Besides anyone who brings Fey back to "SNL" does the country and the show a big favor.

Palin has certainly energized McCain's campaign and drawn record crowds to boot. What Democrats didn't realize is that Palin was not about getting Hillary's voters. It was about energizing the base and getting independent voters. She has done that in spades.

Both Obama and Palin have compelling stories and are great talents. In the end, the margin of victory may be the voters who say I like him, or I trust her.

Of course, the big choice is McCain or Obama. But this is one race where the "veep" choice may really matter. The rise of Palin certainly has made this the most exciting presidential race in my lifetime. And I am one of those old guys who thought he had seen it all.

After the marathon of the primaries, we are down to a 100-yard dash, and McCain's got a 2-yard lead with Obama close on his tail. There's a lot ahead before the finish line.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

All About Barack ObamaJohn McCainSarah PalinTina Fey

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