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Ice queens

  • Jon Kelly
  • 3 Oct 08, 08:10 AM GMT

ST LOUIS, MO: You can keep your pundits and politics professors. I had some real experts to guide me through the Vice Presidential debate: a pair of all-American hockey moms.

I hadn't realised such a subculture existed before Sarah Palin burst onto the world's consciousness like a burly hockey-player - a defenseman bodychecking a rival.

But with commentators turning on the Alaska governor ahead of her encounter with Democratic rival Joe Biden, I wondered if the kind of American moms to whom she was tailoring her message would see things differently.

Lynne and LaurenI invited Lynne Schutz, 41, and Lauren Anderson, 38, onto the bus to talk me through the contest. Neither reminded me of pitbulls, although both were wearing lipstick.

Lynne's 13-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter both played hockey, she told me. Supporting their children's sporting ambitions was a big financial commitment while she and her husband were trying to keep their haulage firm running

"It's about 0500 starts and travelling out of town," she said. "It's about discipline and making sacrifices for your family.

"I wouldn't vote for Sarah Palin just because she's a woman. But I do think that she understands how things are for people like me."

Lynne was open-minded before the debate started. In the past she'd tended to choose Republican in presidential elections, but had also voted for Democratic senators and representatives.

Lauren - a full-time mom accustomed to ferrying three children aged 11, eight and five to hockey practice - was already leaning towards Palin, thanks to her commitment to family values. But she knew her own mind.

It was clear as the evening wore on, however, that both women were moving further into the Republican camp. Palin's folksy turn of phrase (Say it ain't so, Joe! Doggone it!) might have played its part.

But both women said they liked the way she related her own experience of juggling family and career to the post-credit crunch anxieties faced by households like theirs.

It also helped that neither were won over by Joe Biden.

"He's speaking way above what the average person would understand," Lauren remarked. "Everything he says has a negative purpose about it."

Watching the debate"On the other hand, Sarah Palin is holding her own. She's talking about education and how she wants things to change."

Neither Lauren nor Lynne had liked the way in which Palin had been attacked by the media in the run-up to the debate - the Saturday Night Live parodies, the mockery that followed her interviews with Katie Couric.

I couldn't help but wonder if they'd taken this backlash personally - so soon, too, after Hillary Clinton lost her bruising primary battle. Lynne acknowledged that she was riled by the double standards she saw applied to female politicians.

"You'll never see Joe Biden asked how he's going to look after his kids if he becomes Vice President," she frowned.

"But she speaks to me. I don't know if she speaks to everyone, but she definitely speaks to me."

You can argue whether Palin won or lost her bout with Biden. Certainly, I could just as easily have found two women who disliked her with equal passion.

But I don't think the merits or otherwise of her views on abortion, Iraq or offshore drilling were the point tonight. What mattered most was that, in difficult times, Americans wanted leaders who understood them.

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