In 1992, the Bush campaign smeared Clinton as "a failed governor of a small, Southern state". Whether or not the smear was true or not isn't important. It ended up being more offensive to residents of small states and Southern states alike.
I was a young, naive 18 year old resident of a small, Southern state in 1992 and that "small, Southern state" meme really stung and made me mad. To be honest, I found it repugnant and condescending coming from a Texan. I think a lot of other residents of Southern states and small states must have agreed with me. Clinton won Southern states like Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee and of course Arkansas as well as many other Middle America states like Iowa, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri.
Bush was perceived to be out of touch with small town, rural America and struggled to carry many states that rejected Al Gore and John Kerry for much the same reason during this decade. To put a finer point on what happened, let's look at a quote by Hillary Clinton given in response to a question about Barack Obama's infamous "bitter gun clingers" comments:
"You know, the Democratic Party, to be very blunt about it, has been viewed as a party that didn't understand and respect the values and the way of life of so many of our fellow Americans,'' Clinton said. "We had two very good men and men of faith run for president in 2000 and 2004. But large segments of the electorate concluded that they did not really understand or relate to or frankly respect their ways of life.''
I'm not a big fan of Bill Clinton, though I can admit he did some good things such as reducing the deficit and reforming welfare. But regardless of your views of Bill Clinton, it's clear that he connected with Middle America, small towns, Southern states and small states. Just looking at the difference on a county by county level in Iowa shows how much more successful Bill Clinton was at connecting with those voters. Fast forward to today.
Sarah Palin is being attacked, much as Bill Clinton was in 1992, by being labeled as a "mayor of a tiny remote town" and the "governor of a sparsely populated, remote state". We could debate how relevant Palin's experience in Wasilla and Juneau is (just as people debated Clinton's experience in 1992), but the debate misses the point. By smearing small towns and small states, Obama's surrogates and the liberal media are setting up Palin to be the champion of small towns, rural America and small states everywhere.
Palin has been using this to her advantage in every public appeareance and speech. All she has to do is throw Obama's red meat "bitter gun clingers" comments right back at him.... which she does practically every day to great success.
Said Palin back on September 3:
"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities. I might add that in small towns, we don't quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren't listening."
"We tend to prefer candidates who don't talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco."
Now, Obama may well win the White House without the support of small town Americans. There may be enough big city folks to swing the election Obama's way. But my gut tells me Hillary was right. Democrats have lost the last two elections because middle America has perceived them to be out of touch with their values and their concerns. Recent polls show a big swing towards McCain in states like Ohio, Florida and Virginia. Even Washington State's latest poll shows McCain has gained 10 percentage points and now trails by only 2%.
It's becoming increasingly clear that Palin's selection was a brilliant strategic decision that brought a great deal more to the ticket than the first woman on a GOP Presidential ticket. Palin has strong energy credentials, the number one domestic issue in this election. She's an excellent speaker, which was obvious the minute she took the stage in St. Paul and she displayed it again this week in her interview with Charlie Gibson. No stuttering, stammering or nuanced indecision from Palin. She speaks clearly and gets her point across. People may not agree with her on the issues and may be convinced she doesn't have sufficient experience (I admit I have my own reservations), but no one can deny that she comes across as a strong, sure speaker unafraid to champion what she believes in. People respect someone who comes across that way.
But ultimately, she makes a strong appeal to those small town "hockey moms" alienated by Obama and attracted to Hillary. Small town America is Obama's Achilles heel and it was Bill Clinton's ace in the hole. Short of dumping Biden and moving Hillary to the top of the ticket, I have trouble seeing how Obama can rectify this situation. There's a lot more people in this country who empathize with small town mayors and hockey moms than they do with community organizers from the South Side of Chicago who attend Reverend Wright's church. The more Obama's supporters attack Palin because she governed a small town and small state, the deeper hole they did for Obama and the more Palin's North Star rises.