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Washington Co. residents talk about presidential race

August 29, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Political talk picked up as the last piece of the presidential puzzle fell into place.

The final component came Friday as U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, announced he had chosen Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

A week earlier, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois decided on Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware for his running mate.

With the November election nearing, both sides have chosen their tickets, although the Republicans' isn't official until next week's convention.

On Friday, The Herald-Mail asked people on both sides of the aisle to analyze and critique both tickets for president and vice president.

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Smithsburg Mayor Mildred "Mickey" Myers said McCain's pick livened up the race.

"I think it's interesting and it's going to bring somewhat of a spark that's been missing," she said.

Myers, a Republican, called Palin "popular and gutsy," a woman who has risen through leadership ranks.

For Democrats, Obama is exciting as someone new and fresh, Myers said.

"He's a great speaker," she said. "There's no doubt about it."

But Myers said Obama's lack of experience as he tries to become president stands out more than Palin's.

Obama served eight years in the Illinois State Senate before becoming a U.S. senator in 2005.

Palin has been Alaska's governor since 2006 after serving as a mayor and city council member.

Washington County Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire said McCain's selection neutralizes criticism that Obama lacks experience.

Aleshire, a Democrat, said McCain hurt himself by not picking an established running mate to shore up his Republican base, while Obama "took the safe route" with Biden.

Biden will cover an Obama weakness in debates by providing specifics for ideals that Obama has laid out, Aleshire said.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, called Obama the most liberal U.S. senator, and said he was likely to impose new doses of taxes.

"Sen. Obama's rhetoric is really dressed-up, warmed-over, big-government liberalism," Shank said.

Shank said he's excited that Palin, a reform advocate in Alaska, earned the GOP's second spot, a sign that McCain is serious about "cleaning up Washington, ending the culture of corruption."

Shank conceded that McCain is not the rhetorician that Obama is, but said he has substance rather than rock-star style.

Patricia Heck, the chairwoman of the Washington County Democratic Central Committee, said Republicans try to gloss over Obama's attributes - youth, intelligence, morality - and dismiss his candidacy.

Once more of a maverick, McCain has backed down on some issues, such as his agreement with President Bush on a torture ban, Heck said.

McCain's strongest attribute is his military background and the time he spent as a prisoner of war, she said.

But for vice president, Palin "seems like a little bit of desperation" for the GOP, Heck said.

Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., R-Frederick/Washington, said he and his father knew Biden through political circles in Delaware, where Weldon was born.

Weldon called Biden one of the smartest people he's known, but someone with "a dangerously big mouth" - a weakness that easily could be controlled.

Weldon put Obama and Palin on an equal plane for their short political résumés, but said Obama has "energized elements of the electorate in this nation that I have never seen."

McCain has "an incredible personal story" that can carry Republicans if they figure out how to tell it well, Weldon said. They also have a good story in Palin, who might appeal to disaffected women, he said.

As the volunteer coordinator of the Hagerstown Food Bank based at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, Beth Stouffer, a Democrat, deals every day with the struggles of people in need.

Stouffer said she views Obama's rise from meager beginnings as a plus should he be elected.

"He has brought himself up by his own bootstraps and gotten into good schools," Stouffer said. "I think he is very wise and has made good choices."

The McCain-Palin GOP ticket is weak because of Palin's lack of experience, she said.

"With all the experienced lawmakers - those he knows and has a lot in common with - I don't know why he did that," Stouffer said.

Stouffer said she doesn't think Palin could be president if something happened to McCain.

Penny M. Nigh, a Democratic city councilwoman in Hagerstown, said she wasn't sure how to dissect the two tickets' strengths and weaknesses.

But the addition of Palin to a humdrum race "certainly has added more spice to that pot," she said.

Staff writer Marlo Barnhart contributed to this story.

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