17 Sep 2010

Key question in US politics: where would Sarah Palin sit?

Channel 4 News Washington correspondent Sarah Smith blogs that the only question that matters in American politics is, “Where would Sarah Palin sit on the plane to Iowa?”

I just took a flight from Washington to Des Moines, Iowa – the state famous for making or breaking so many politicians’’ runs at the White House.

As the first state to make its choice, in early January, it has a disproportionate influence on who becomes the official candidate for each party.

So for about two years before that, wannabe presidential candidates come courting. Iowans genuinely expect to come face to face with anyone who is asking for their vote. So serious politicians have to spend serious time here.

So you can imagine how much chatter it caused when Sarah Palin accepted an invite to speak at a dinner in Des Moines on Friday night. She will not stand up and declare her intention to run for president in 2012. But she doesn’t have to. Her mere presence in the hawkeye state is enough.

So could it be Palin-mania that explains why there were so many congressmen on the plane with me? Or why some of them were acting a bit oddly?

In order to board, I had to push past a heated argument at the gate, where one passenger was insisting he would not get on the plane unless they changed his upgraded first class seat for an economy one.

As the plane was completely full (did I mention, there is a BIG event in Des Moines?), he had to trawl the economy cabin for someone who was prepared to swap with him.  

Now, when I say first class I don’t mean a glass of chilled champange and a fully flat bed. This is not British Airways. This is Delta regional to Des Moines. The seats in first are no bigger. There is not a centimetre more of leg room. Beer still costs $5. And the only food available is mini-pretzels or Pringles.

So why was this man so desperate to get back to economy? 

“He is a congressman,” my seat neighbour explained. Just like all of them – pointing out at least four more of Iowa’s finest, all happily sitting up in first.

The last time I took a plane to Des Moines I saw another politician on board. Then Senator Joe Biden. The man picked by Obama to be his running mate because his solid working class credentials would make up for Obama’s lack of them. And where was he sitting? Seat 1A of course

But Biden seems like yesterday’s man already. Now the only question that matters in American politics is: “Where would Sarah sit?” – and they are not talking about me.