Palin pick jolts GOP ranks ahead of convention
Socially conservative and telegenic, Alaska's governor livens the ticket but is questioned on experience.
Denver - John McCain's surprise selection Friday of Sarah Palin, first-term governor of Alaska, as his running mate has sent a jolt of electricity into the Republican Party on the eve of its convention.Skip to next paragraph
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The popular, telegenic governor of America's 49th state brings to the table a record of challenging the status quo, strong social conservative views, and the potential to attract disgruntled supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who came close to winning the Democratic nomination but was not chosen as nominee Barack Obama's running mate. Governor Palin's own maverick streak, pushing for ethics in government and opposing special-project funding from Washington, meshes with Senator McCain's stance.
Still, Governor Palin's short time as a governor under two years and lack of experience in national security matters has raised eyebrows, especially given McCain's age. At 72, he is the oldest first-time nominee for either major party. Voters may look a little more closely at his running mate's preparedness for office than they might otherwise.
But then there's the potential upside in the selection of Palin - the daughter of a science teacher and school secretary originally from Idaho - as one who may be able to woo the demographic groups that have been most resistant to Obama's appeal: white older women and working-class voters.
The Palin pick "was both a bold and a risky move," says Dennis Simon, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "Bold, because McCain went way outside the Washington, D.C., establishment and chose someone who was hardly on the radar screen; risky, because she has no exposure to the rough and tumble of national politics. I don't want to draw too close a comparison, but the last time this happened was when [the first President] Bush went with Dan Quayle."
Palin's selection is also reminiscent of Democrat Walter Mondale's choice of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, an attempt to inject some excitement in a tough year for the Democrats. While the Bush-Quayle ticket succeeded, Mondale-Ferraro got trounced.
In some ways, the selection of Palin is most important for what it reveals about McCain. To one former McCain aide, Dan Schnur, the unexpected choice "suggests that McCain and his advisers aren't as confident about the direction of the race, even given the ground they've made up in the polls."
The latest Gallup tracking poll shows Obama now ahead of McCain by 8 points, after losing his lead in the run-up to the convention. But Mr. Schnur expects the race to return to a dead heat after the Republican convention.
Schnur also surmises that the McCain team concluded that the experience argument against Obama that with less than four years in the Senate and no executive experience, he's not ready for the Oval Office wasn't going to work much better than it did for Senator Clinton.
"So they decided it's worth trading that argument away in order to target Clinton's supporters more directly," he says.
"It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America," she said, referring to the votes Senator Clinton received in the primaries, "but it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all."