Why McCain's VP choice Gov. Sarah Palin is a gamble for GOP
This is one amazing roll of the dice. In picking little-known Sarah Palin as his running mate, Republican John McCain is betting, among...
Timeline: Gov. Sarah Palin
Feb. 11, 1964: Born in Sandpoint, Idaho.
1982: Graduated from Wasilla High School in Wasilla, Alaska.
1987: Graduated with a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Idaho.
Aug. 29, 1988: Married Todd Palin, with whom she has had five children.
1992-96: Entered public life, serving two terms on the Wasilla City Council.
1996-2002: Elected mayor of Wasilla for two terms until term limits forced her from office.
2002: Lost her first statewide campaign for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor.
2002: Frank Murkowski left the Senate to become governor and named Palin chairwoman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
2003: Split with the party leaders by battling Randy Ruedrich, the head of Alaska's Republican Party.
2006: Upset then-Gov. Murkowski in the Republican primary, then defeated former two-term Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat, in the general election.
2007: Pressured lawmakers to get the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act passed, to build a natural-gas pipeline to deliver 35 trillion cubic feet of North Slope natural gas to market.
Aug. 29: Chosen as Sen. John McCain's vice-presidential running mate. The Associated Press
This is one amazing roll of the dice.
In picking little-known Sarah Palin as his running mate, Republican John McCain is betting, among other things, that having a woman on his ticket will make some voters take a new look at the race.
The possible upsides are clear-cut, as are potential risks.
The Alaska governor is a new face on the national scene, and she might catch on with voters. Her credentials as a social conservative will help reassure and perhaps energize a Republican base that has reservations about McCain.
Palin, pronounced PAY-lin, has a reputation as a reformer and someone who is not beholden to her party. Her selection bolsters McCain's maverick image.
There is also the electoral calculation. The obvious intent, confirmed by Palin's words Friday, is to appeal to one of the larger groups of undecided voters: women upset that Hillary Rodham Clinton is not on the Democratic ticket.
But it seems unlikely that women who backed Clinton would be drawn to the other party by a woman who is a strong opponent of abortion rights and any number of other Clinton positions.
Perhaps most important, the selection of someone with 20 months' experience leading a state with 670,000 residents undercuts one of the most effective arguments the McCain campaign has against the Democrats: that Barack Obama is not ready to be president.
The unavoidable questions now are whether Palin is ready and why McCain would want a running mate of whom that question could legitimately be asked.
McCain turned 72 Friday and has a history of melanoma, a potentially deadly skin cancer. That seemed to make it essential that he choose someone of obvious presidential caliber. Critics will argue that Palin, 44 — a first-term governor and the former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, population about 7,000 — doesn't meet that test, at least not in the traditional way.
Analysts also were wondering how Palin, who made a point of mentioning Friday that she is commander of the Alaska National Guard as governor, will do in her debate in October against Democrat Joseph Biden and his 36 years in the Senate. She might benefit from low expectations.
"You know, Gov. Palin has more executive experience than Sen. Obama, Sen. Biden and Sen. [Charles] Schumer combined because those guys have never run anything," said Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M.
In introducing Palin at Wright State University in Fairborn, near Dayton, Ohio, McCain called her a reformer with a fighting spirit, an executive with grit, integrity and good sense. He said she was in touch with the concerns of working people.
But he did not recite what has become the political boilerplate for such an occasion: that he had found someone who fulfills the only real criterion that matters, being qualified to serve should anything happen to the president.
"On his 72nd birthday, is this really the one-heartbeat-away he wants to put in the White House?" asked Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the No. 3 Democrat in the House. "What does this say about his judgment?"
Palin brings clear assets to the ticket. The "gun-packing, hockey-playing woman," as Republican strategist Karl Rove described her, bolstered McCain's wobbly conservative base, which rejoiced over the selection of an anti-abortion evangelical Christian.
Her personal narrative as a working mother rearing five children, including an infant with Down syndrome, with a husband who belongs to a union, might prove attractive to working-class voters in crucial states who have been suspicious of Obama. Her presence on the ticket also will allow Republicans to argue that Obama would not be the only one to break barriers if elected.
"He's chosen a Washington outsider who will be an ally for him in shaking up the way things are done," said Ron Nehring, chairman of the California Republican Party. "This is someone with solid conservative credentials but solid credentials as a reformer. And it's clear after watching today's event, no one is going to push Sarah Palin around, not Barack Obama and not Joe Biden."
On Thursday in Denver, with Barack Obama in mind, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, said: "When you look at a candidate, you should ask two questions: What have you done, and what have you run? And when you look at those two questions, the answers are 'not much' and 'nothing.' "
In Palin's case, some Democrats said Friday, the answers might be "not much" and "very little."
Not all Democrats were as dismissive. "She has very, very good political instincts," said Mike Kenny, former Alaska Teamsters union president and now a Democratic candidate for the state House. Kenny, in his role as Teamster president, endorsed Palin in the 2006 gubernatorial primary but does not call himself a supporter now.
"I think she's a mile wide and about an inch deep," Kenny said. "But she has the Alaskan touch; she's a hockey mom, she hunts, she fishes. Her husband is a man's man, her son joined the Army. ... These are powerful images that resonate with a lot of people."
Calling McCain an American hero, Palin on Friday said she was proud to be selected 88 years after women won the right to vote. She praised Democrat Geraldine Ferraro, who in 1984 became the first female vice-presidential candidate of a major party, and Clinton, who ran a spirited contest against Obama. She also sought to reach out for the votes of Democratic women.
"Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America," she said. "But it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all."
Compiled from The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and McClatchy Newspapers
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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