A Face-Off for the Future; the Rise of Sarah Palin

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Byline: Gary Andres, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Picking Sarah Palin as the vice presidential nominee energized John McCain's presidential campaign like a Caribou Coffee jolt of caffeine. She produced a bump in the polls and a burst of excitement. The Arizona senator trailed Barack Obama by several points heading into the Republican convention but emerged from St. Paul either even or slightly ahead, according to the most recent surveys. Moreover, before the conventions, Democrats were more enthusiastic about the presidential campaign by a 57 percent to 39 percent margin. Following the Republican convention, that gap had shrunk to seven points (67 percent to 60 percent).

Yet beyond the presidential bounce, Mrs. Palin's espresso-like enthusiasm could produce broader electoral consequences. The zeal she adds might do more than elect Mr. McCain president. The reform-minded Alaska governor could also help down ticket with Republican congressional candidates. As former Republican House leadership aide Billy Pitts told me, This is the first time congressional candidates may ride 'skirt tails' to victory.

Several recent pieces of evidence underscore the pull of the Palin political hemline. First, Washington buzzed last week about recent changes reported in Gallup's generic ballot. This survey question, If the election for Congress were being held today, which party would you vote for in your congressional district (the Democratic Party's candidate or the Republican Party's candidate)? is correlated with party fortunes in congressional elections. For example, Democrats expanded their lead on this question before capturing the House in the 2006 election. Similarly, Republicans were strong on the generic ballot prior to taking over the House in 1994. For the past two years, Republicans have lagged on the generic ballot question by double digits. But a Gallup poll released last week found Democrats' lead among registered voters down to only three points (48 percent to 45 percent) - and among likely voters, the Republican Party actually now leads by five points (50 percent to 45 percent). That is a remarkable reversal of fortune in the past month.

Gallup's Lydia Saad agrees. These new results cast some doubt on the previously assumed inevitability of the Democrats' maintaining control of Congress, she wrote last week. …