With the potential for a presidential run for Governor Palin in the future and with her huge superstar appeal, pundits and politicians have on occasion discussed her ability to engage in retail politics. When Governor Palin spoke at a GOP fundraiser in Iowa last fall, people questioned her desire to engage in retail politics, an arguably necessary part of the primary process in that state. As time has crept into 2011, people are still questioning this very thing. Former Iowa Lt. Governor Betty Judge, a Democrat, doesn’t think that Governor Palin will be able to do well with the electoral setup and necessary strategy needed to win the Iowa caucus:
I do not believe that Sarah Palin can win in Iowa. I don’t think she will play well to the kind of retail politics that politicians at all levels have to do in Iowa,” Judge said. “Her biggest problem in Iowa is I don’t think she could do the retail politics, the walking down Main Street and shaking hands, the sitting down at the coffee shop, just hearing a lot of the stuff that maybe she doesn’t want to hear and answering it as best she can – I don’t see her doing that. I don’t think her personality fits that and that’s always a problem for people who have some celebrity.”
No one is in the position to make accurate assumptions about the campaign strategy Governor Palin or any other potential 2012 presidential candidate may employ. However, often in politics, the past can indicate how a candidate may act in the present and in future. If Governor Palin’s previous political campaigns are any indication, she excels at retail politics.
In Going Rogue, Governor Palin spoke at length of her 2006 gubernatorial campaign. This campaign included driving herself 12 hours round trip from Wasilla and Valdez with her kids in tow to meet with potential future constituents, a larger scale version of her campaigns in Wasilla when she would pull her children in a wagon while meeting with future constituents. Governor Palin writes, " I wanted to shake every hand on the trail. I wanted to meet the people who would be my bosses". She spoke about attending dozens of candidate forums, debates, interviews, and events throughout both the primary and general election. Wouldn’t one think that if a woman could run a successful, grassroots campaign with a focus on engaging every potential constituent in a state twice the geographical size of Texas, she could do the same in a state the size of Iowa?
This attitude of engaging the electorate on an individual level was something that Governor Palin carried with her on the 2008 campaign trail speaking wth reporters in Colorado:
"If I called all the shots, and if I could wave a magic wand," Palin said, "I would be sitting at a kitchen table with more and more Americans, talking to them about our plan to get the economy back on track and winning the war, and not having to rely on the old conventional ways of campaigning…"
In Going Rogue, Governor Palin spoke of her desire to spend as much time on the rope lines at campaign events as possible in 2008. She didn’t want the McCain campaign to pull of Michigan because, as she said in Going Rogue, "every single person and every single vote mattered". Governor Palin shows consistency in her campaign approach at both the state and national levels-the entire electorate matters. Whether it is spending more time on the rope lines, small town GOP chili suppers, or sitting down face-to-face with constituents, this is the kind of campaign Governor Palin is comfortable engaging in. It’s true she is able to draw huge crowds to her speeches and sell out venues in a matter of hours. She is a huge ratings draw on national cable channels for both her political insight on Fox News and her travelogue show on TLC. People line up in the cold hours and hours before one of her book signings just for the opportunity to speak with her for a brief moment. That is Sarah Palin the political superstar. Sarah Palin, the campaigning politician, although not a different person has a different focus–meeting as many potential constituents as possible and listening to what they want from their government.
Regarding Iowa specifically, what separates Governor Palin from other potential GOP presidential candidates is that she is focused on the task at hand. She doesn’t act solely out of what may be politically expedient in her future. When she spoke in Iowa last fall to raise money for the Iowa GOP, her focus was the 2010 election, not the 2012 election. Her intention at the time was to do all she could to help bring conservative victory in the 2010. She made this clear, and she was successful. This past summer, we saw other potential candidates exercise disingenuous coyness about their political plans for 2012 while chomping on corn dogs at the Iowa state fair. We’ve seen a potential candidate touting government subsidies for junk energy science solely for the sake of pandering to certain Iowa voters. This is what separates Governor Palin from other politicians. She is forthcoming, upfront, and focused. She isn’t going to be two faced regarding her actions and her intentions. If this kind of focus and sincerity regarding her intentions care over to a potential 2012 campaign, there is no doubt Governor Palin will be successful if and when she makes her intentions known.
With Iowa’s position on the primary schedule and its caucus format, voters come to expect certain things from candidates, and candidates are required to visit every part of the Hawkeye state to gain needed support from Republicans. Candidates also see success in Iowa as a momentum builder for the remainder of their primary campaign. While Governor Palin has become a political superstar in many respects when she isn’t a candidate, as a candidate throughout her political career at the city, state, and national levels, she has proved to be an excellent retail politician. Her political opponents and naysayers can keep on misrepresenting her and underestimating her, but they do so at their own peril. Another conservative, political superstar used his opponents’ underestimation of him quite effectively–Ronald Reagan.
H/T Janne Myrdal
Related: Mel Bryant wrote a good piece this past fall highlighting more of Governor Palin’s affinity for retail politics as she writes about in Going Rogue.