Political science professor Paul Sracic, in a commentary published by CNN.com, admits that until just a few days ago, he did not consider Sarah Palin to be a "serious" candidate. But now he says that if she gets into the presidential race, she'll be "a formidable candidate" - not just in the GOP primary, but in the general election should she win her party's presidential nomination. What changed his mind? Something in SarahPAC's "Iowa Passion" video:
In the video, the initial scenes of bright sunlight shining over Iowa cornfields lead into uplifting images of young people and young couples with children smiling and enjoying the day at the Iowa State Fair. In a phrase, it is "Morning in America." Those of us of a certain age remember the Reagan campaign's seminal commercial of that name, an advertisement that helped to secure his crushing landslide re-election in 1984.Prof. Stracic takes pains to point out that he is predicting neither a Palin presidency nor her nomination by the 2012 RNC convention. What he does make clear, however, is that Gov. Palin should not be counted out "before she has had a chance to campaign." The political scientist concludes his opinion piece with a reminder that an ABC news poll in January 1980 showed Ronald Reagan far behind sitting President Jimmy Carter, down 30 points. And this was eight full months before Reagan had even won his party's nomination.
Of course, since Reagan was already completing his first term in office, his commercial referred to what he claimed to have already done. Palin, on the other hand, is speaking to the future. In quasi-religious terms, she criticizes the lack of "faith" that Washington has in the American people, while confidently championing the coming "great awakening." What this shows more than anything else is that Palin understands what Reagan always knew: Americans want to be optimists. More important, she is media savvy enough to know how to deliver that message in a captivating fashion.
My point is not that Palin is Reagan. They differ in many obvious and substantial ways.
Palin, however, has risen to prominence in a different age. Twenty-four-hour news stations provide much more exposure in a shorter period. Compared to Bachmann and Perry, at least, Palin is a veteran on the political scene. More significant, however, is the fact that, like Reagan, Palin has the correct media skills for the age.
What is most Reaganesque about Sarah Palin, however, is that on camera, her optimism about America appears natural. This is a quality that should not be underestimated, since it allows her the leeway to be negative without turning off voters by appearing mean-spirited. This offers at least the possibility that, despite her current low standing in the polls, she will be able to leap-frog over the more negative sounding Bachmann and Perry, and compete head-to-head with Romney.
Even more than they did in 2008, Americans want hope. What Palin's handlers have in the former governor is a candidate they can cast in a pitch-perfect media campaign that blends a criticism of the Obama administration with a positive message about the future.