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Assessing Sarah Palin

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain selects Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate. Palin, originally from Idaho, was elected the first female governor of Alaska in 2006 after defeating incumbent Frank Murkowski in the Republican primary and former Gov. Tony Knowles in the general election.

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Post asked political experts for their thoughts on John McCain's running mate. Below are contributions from: Michael Feldman, Newt Gingrich, Catharine A. "Kiki" McLean, Greg Mueller, Grover G. Norquist, John Podesta, Douglas E. Schoen and Lisa Schiffren

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MICHAEL FELDMAN

Former senior adviser to Vice President Al Gore and founding partner of the Glover Park Group

The first rule in veep selection is do no harm. The second rule is that the only time you violate Rule No. 1 is when you think you have no choice.

This pick is the single best indication of where the race stands. John McCain knew that unless he made a dramatic choice and shook up the race, the underlying dynamic of this election would remain the same -- and result in a Democratic victory in November. The choice of Sarah Palin smacks of desperation and is fraught with peril for the Republican nominee.

It is also indicative of the quandary that has plagued McCain from the inception of his campaign: how to reach out to moderate and independent voters while keeping the far-right wing of the Republican Party in check.

McCain wants and needs a game-changer -- someone who can transform the race and appeal to women who feel disenfranchised by the Democratic primary results. But he couldn't go with his first choice, Joe Lieberman, because it would have caused a revolt within his Republican base.

Instead, he has decided to put the former part-time mayor of a town of fewer than 9,000, with zero foreign policy experience, a heartbeat away from the presidency, undermining one of his central campaign messages -- experience.

Furthermore, he has chosen a staunchly pro-life running mate -- a clear non-starter for a large majority of the women he so desperately needs if he is to win in November.

NEWT GINGRICH

Former Republican speaker of the House

Gov. Sarah Palin is exactly the right choice for John McCain's running mate. The contrast with Sen. Joe Biden is extraordinary.

Biden came to the Senate in 1973; Sarah Palin was 9. Biden has spent all those years in Washington; Sarah Palin spent them in the American West.

She is against tax increases; Biden is for them. She is for drilling for more American oil, and Biden is against more American oil.

If you want real change, count on Palin. Her record in Alaska proves that she will take on Washington lobbyists and Washington interests. Obama's first big choice was for continuity of the Washington system -- an old Washington hand who is comfortable with lobbyist money. McCain's choice of Sarah Palin is a move for real change. Every reformer and every Hillary Clinton supporter should take note -- they have an opportunity to reject a disappointing betrayal of their hopes and vote for real reform and real opportunity for women.

CATHERINE A. "KIKI" MCLEAN

Senior adviser to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and a principal with the Dewey

Square Group

Women don't vote for women because they are women. Women have high expectations -- and have always had to meet them. The McCain campaign should not assume that adding Sarah Palin to its ticket will attract female voters in margins large enough to turn the Obama tide. In fact, this choice might be yet another example that he is out of touch.

The dramatic increase in female voters this year wasn't just about a woman being on the ballot. It was driven by an intense debate on a broad agenda of bread-and-butter issues and national security.

Simply putting a woman on the ticket won't compensate for the McCain campaign's anemic policy positions. He has to argue a real agenda and vision for working-class women who are struggling. Many of these women oppose the war in Iraq not only because of the unnecessary loss of life but also because of its toll on the economy.

Our side can't dismiss the attributes of Palin that are attractive to all voters -- such as her efforts to reform a corrupt Republican organization and her oppositions to earmarks. But Republicans must work hard to demonstrate that she has a deep understanding of the issues key to female voters this year.

GREG MUELLER

Republican strategist, former senior aide to the Steve Forbes and Pat Buchanan presidential campaigns and president of CRC Public Relations

National polls consistently show that almost one-fourth of female voters are undecided. John McCain has made a smart choice combining the interests of his party's conservative base with the opportunity to attract disaffected female voters and independents who have not yet embraced the type of change Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden are trying to sell.

The Obama campaign and other Democrats were quick to attack Palin's experience. In fact, Palin has more executive experience than Obama does. This is dangerous territory for the Democrats. If this is a campaign about experience and judgment, McCain will be the next president of the United States.

Palin is a terrific contrast to the all-Washington ticket of Obama-Biden, and she is truly an outside-the-Beltway, blue-collar pick. The Democrats and Hillary Clinton talked a lot this week about cracks in the glass ceiling, but that glass ceiling has now been shattered by McCain and the Republican Party.

GROVER G. NORQUIST

President of Americans for Tax Reform and author

Decisions that are surprises are rarely wise ones. This choice was both. Sarah Palin strengthens the McCain presidential bid, the Republican Party and the conservative movement. Palin was not chosen to cherry-pick a state. She was not chosen for her gender. She stands dead center of the Reagan Republican party -- an economic conservative who fights against wasteful spending and a traditional values conservative who lives her principles. She is a trailblazer in the fight for financial transparency in government, posting her state's spending on the Internet.

Her focus on spending continues the McCain strategy of putting distance between himself and the greatest liability of the Bush presidency -- its failure to even try and limit overall spending. More like Reagan, less like Bush. Obama is the guy who wants to spend like Bush.

The fact that she is a woman will sway some independent votes toward her. She was chosen for being a conservative reformer with results, which says very good things about candidate McCain and the modern Republican Party.

JOHN PODESTA

Chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund

A potential vice president with the ideology of Dick Cheney and fewer qualifications than Dan Quayle should send arctic shivers up our spines.

Vice presidents matter. In our history, nine have become president when the sitting commander in chief unexpectedly died or resigned. McCain, a 72-year-old cancer survivor, may be rolling the dice to grab a chunk of Hillary Clinton's voters, but he is asking all of us to gamble on Sarah Palin if she were to become president at a time of national crisis.

McCain himself said this spring: "In all due respect he does not understand . . . the fundamental elements of national security and warfare." He could have been discussing his running mate. The former mayor of Wasilla, population 8,471, has no national security experience. She has been governor only two years. And her instincts on domestic and security policy are troubling.

While we sit on only 3 percent of the world's oil reserves, Palin thinks we can drill our way out of our oil addiction by exploiting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. When we should be protecting the climate, she is suing the United States to prevent protections for polar bears threatened by global warming. When we need to clean up Washington, she is vocally defending Sen. Ted Stevens.

DOUGLAS E. SCHOEN

Democratic pollster and author

The selection of Sarah Palin has created additional problems for the Republicans.

First, ideology. Palin, while a youthful, reform-oriented outsider, is from the conservative wing of the party. An ardently pro-life, anti-gay-rights woman is unlikely to appeal to whatever is left of Hillary Clinton's heretofore disaffected constituency after the Democrats' show of unity this week.

Second, McCain is 72 and the oldest non-incumbent ever to be nominated. A running mate with only two years of experience as a governor makes it much more difficult for the Republicans to argue their experience.

By passing up obviously qualified candidates such as Joe Lieberman and former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, who offered at least the possibility of bipartisanship and a broader range of experience and background than Palin, McCain has missed a critical opportunity to expand the reach of a party whose base has been narrowing steadily since 2004. Even Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, a successful centrist who balanced the budget and built bipartisan coalitions in a state that is trending blue, would have offered a better opportunity to broaden McCain's appeal, as well as putting Minnesota, a potential swing state, into play.

Finally, Republican politics in Alaska has not been free of scandal recently. Further media exploration surrounding Palin's dealings with the state police could prove embarrassing.

LISA SCHIFFREN

Speechwriter to Vice President Dan Quayle and contributor to the National Review Online's "The Corner" blog

My first response to the choice of Sarah Palin was to say "Yaaay!" -- and to call my daughters to the TV. The GOP rarely hits those emotional chords -- or makes the edgier choice -- but John McCain has done it big-time by partnering with a young woman who worked her way up to the governorship of Alaska while being happily married and raising five (!) children.

It is hard to imagine a more compelling choice for this election. She brings sizzle and energy that the GOP ticket would have lacked with another white guy. Palin also highlights McCain's substantive commitment to real political change; to small government; and to actually cutting spending.

Barack Obama says that change comes to Washington, not from it. But Palin has already changed the way things are done. She has vigorously cut pork. She personally stopped the "Bridge to Nowhere." She has been tough on ethical lapses. At a moment when energy issues are central, Palin has been a forceful advocate of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; that she is a hunter, a conservationist and an Alaskan gives her street cred on the environmental aspect of this issue. She is a serious athlete -- and we shouldn't underestimate her willingness to hit hard.

McCain, the presidential nominee, has plenty of foreign policy experience -- the preferred order for a ticket. Palin might not win a debate with Joe Biden, but GOP voters look for action and forgive a lack of rhetorical elegance.

Talk about a role model for our daughters: Annie Oakley in the halls of power! With a newborn . . . and a son serving in Iraq. I am giddy!


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