Massachusetts Women Sound Off on Palin

Divided by their politics, mothers in Stockbridge find some common ground.

Sept. 16, 2008— -- It's happening at kitchen tables and office water coolers, over e-mail and at friends' birthday parties: People nationwide are reeling from two head-spinning weeks that have reinvigorated John McCain's campaign for the presidency with the selection of vice presidential pick Sarah Palin.

"I did want to learn a lot more about her because of that acceptance speech," said Democrat Tina Hamilton, of Acton, Mass. "And I was wowed. I absolutely was wowed."

Still, Hamilton is one of many people taking a closer look now that "the dust has settled a little bit for me," and she is reminding herself that she does not agree with Palin's politics.

Hamilton was also one of a group of seven women, from diverse backgrounds, that ABC News invited to the small town of Stockbridge, Mass., to discuss the governor, her interview with ABC News and her impact on the race. Thousands of miles from Palin's hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, they formed an informal, if unscientific, focus group.

Divided by their politics but tied together by their home state, seven mothers came to some perhaps surprising agreements: Not only is Palin a conversation starter who has brought a new dynamic to the 2008 election, but the Republican governor of Alaska has also sparked common concerns.

Of the two Republicans, one independent supporting McCain, and four Democrats who participated in ABC News' roundtable, five shared concerns about Palin's lack of experience for the job of vice president.

The panel also largely agreed that Palin handled herself well last week when asked by ABC News' Charles Gibson about the balance between her life as a mother and her life in office.

When asked by Gibson, "Is it sexist for people to ask how can somebody manage a family of seven and the vice presidency?" Palin said, "I don't know. I'm lucky to have been brought up in a family where gender's never been an issue.

"I'm part of that generation where that question is kind of irrelevant because it, it's accepted," Palin said. "Of course you can be the vice president and you can raise a family."

By all accounts, the panel members, Democrats included, were satisfied with Palin's response, though they all felt the question was a sexist one that would never be asked of a male candidate. Still, they also agreed that it was OK to bring it up, since everyone in their neighborhoods and their groups of friends has been discussing it.

On Whether She's Ready – and on Palin Thinking She Is

Just days after Palin's interviews with Gibson, some of the women in Stockbridge said they were uneasy about Palin's lack of foreign policy experience and her decision to ask Gibson for clarification when he questioned her on the Bush Doctrine that calls for the right to anticipatory self-defense of America. Some said they were also bothered by how little Palin has traveled overseas.

"On the positive front, I just, I love her self-confidence and her belief in herself and for her party, and the fact that she thinks she can actually go and make a difference, and that's what energizes people," said Republican Lisa Robb, also from Acton. "They want 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.' They want to see that."

"Obviously, on the flip side, she does come from a small town and, you know, fairly small state, economically and politically, and so the foreign policy is, is something that concerns me," Robb added.

Still, others said Palin's resume may not hold her back.

"This whole thing is an education process," said Republican Deb McMenamy, who said she first heard of Palin the day she was nominated. "I think Barack Obama has learned so much in the months that he has been campaigning, about national and international policy. And I think that's just the nature of the beast."

McMenamy said she felt McCain's selection "made a great first impression," as well as a terrific second impression while being interviewed by Gibson last week.

"I wanted to see, you know, you know, this — this firecracker, is she gonna maintain that spark?" said McMenamy, a Stockbridge resident. "And I think she truly held her own in that interview."

Democrat Aimee Griffin Nunnings of Springfield, however, strongly disagreed.

"I think that she's been well trained," Nunnings said. "I think that her responses to the questions were not exactly the response to the questions, but what the response was supposed to be."

Women on the panel also did not agree about whether Palin's confidence in her readiness to be vice president was appealing. The fact that Palin said she didn't even blink when asked to be vice president solicited mixed reactions.

"I think you have to show confidence, of course, when you're taking on a position such as this," said Democrat Pam Alcaide, of Acton. "But I'd like to see a little more introspection, a little more pause and I feel like it was a little too over-confident."

"I feel like she had no other way to answer that question, other than to say, 'Yes, I am completely ready, I knew it, I am wired to do this job,'" Hamilton said. "I think she had to do that. Nobody wants to vote for someone who's saying — a little wishy-washy about the job."

On Polarizing Social Issues

On social issues, the women revealed how polarizing Palin can be, especially when it comes to her anti-abortion stance.

"This is a major issue for me," Alcaide said. "And she talks about how she made a choice and how Bristol made a choice, her daughter, but she wants to take away choice from all the other women in America. That is what she has staunchly said over the years."

When Gibson asked her in the interview whether Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that guaranteed women's right to abortions, should be reversed, Palin said "I think it should. ... I think that states should be able to decide that issue."

Palin also said it's her personal opinion that abortion should be allowed only in cases where the life of the mother is endangered, whereas McCain has said it should also be permitted in cases of rape and incest.

Nunnings likewise emphasized that an anti-abortion rights pick could have considerable influence in selecting future Supreme Court justices who could potentially overturn Roe v. Wade. Alcaide agreed, "That's not a risk I'm willing to take."

On the other hand, the two Republicans on the panel, both of whom were in favor of abortion rights, said they thought Palin's answer on abortion reflected only her personal views and was not threatening to them. They made clear that even though they disagree with Palin's stance on abortion, they will support her.

All politics aside, women on the panel agreed that Palin had helped to bring a new energy to the race and they were excited about the level of engagement they're seeing in their communities.

"I'm so excited about it, about politics, for a change," Hamilton said.