Republican presidential nominee John McCain selected running mate Sarah Palin because he recognizes Americans want change, Norah O'Donnell, chief Washington correspondent for MSNBC, said at a Kennedy Political Union event Monday.
"Now we have another woman ... the first woman ever on a Republican ticket; it's the first time in 24 years that there has been a woman on a presidential ticket," she said. "There's such excitement about Sarah Palin, even among Democratic women who certainly do not share her views on abortion, on taxes, on a whole host of issues, on energy issues, but like her just because she's a woman."
Even though gender and race both played important roles in determining who many Americans voted for in the primaries, O'Donnell said Americans' level of income was a stronger factor in determining their vote choice.
O'Donnell said Palin's candidacy is historic because of the excitement she has generated and her ability to bring people out to rallies who McCain was unable to attract before.
"What we saw happen in the polls after John McCain chose her knocked peoples' socks off," she said. "You had this race swing wildly; all of a sudden Barack Obama, who had led among women, was falling behind among women. There were so many women who related to Sarah Palin."
The public shift to support to the McCain-Palin ticket because of her selection has since swung back to Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and running mate Joe Biden's ticket, O'Donnell said.
Ashley Evans, the director of Women's Initiative, said O'Donnell's words encouraged empowerment for women.
"She's clearly a very accomplished woman in her field and it's always fantastic to hear women at the top of their field talk about their experiences," Evans said. "She brought up the importance of seeing different faces in leadership and seeing more women involved, whether they're Democrats or Republicans. The more women we have running for leadership positions at the local level or the national level, the better."
O'Donnell said Obama will probably need to hold on to all of the states 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry won in his contest against President Bush if he is to win the election. She called the battle for Pennsylvania's 21 electoral votes "a tight contest" and referenced an NBC/Mason-Dixon poll, conducted from Sept. 16 to Sept. 18, that placed the margin between McCain and Obama's support at 2 points, with Obama leading McCain 46-44 percent.
Population growth in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, especially among Hispanic citizens, has made these states more competitive in 2008 than they were in 2004, O'Donnell said. These demographic changes prompted NBC to consider New Mexico as a state that leans towards supporting Obama, even though the state voted for Bush in 2004.
"Newer, younger, different kinds of people ... that's what's changing essentially in making those states more politically potent," she said.
North Carolina may also be a pivotal state in this election because its 15 electoral votes are at stake in a race recent polls show is neck-and-neck. A Sept. 17-20 poll from Republican-affiliated Civitas/TelOpinion shows McCain and Obama are tied in North Carolina, where both candidates received 45 percent of likely voters' support.
O'Donnell said her former boss and colleague, Tim Russert, said the only bias he had as a journalist was for a great story.
"This [election] is the greatest story of my lifetime as a journalist," O'Donnell said.
O'Donnell's speech was part of American University's fifth annual CIVITAS week.