By Chris Cillizza
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Friday, August 29, 2008 10:50 AM
DENVER -- John McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his vice presidential running mate is a stunning surprise almost certain to recalibrate the race heading into the fall election.
The McCain campaign had make little secret of the fact that they wanted to pick a woman as the Arizona senator's running mate, believing that the rift caused by the protracted primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton gave them an opportunity to pick up scads of disgruntled women.
While Palin was among those mentioned -- she cracked The Fix's Veepstakes Line on several occasions -- she was never seen as a serious contender: too young (she is in her early 40s), too inexperienced (she has been governor for less than two years) and from a state, in Alaska, that is not regarded as a battle ground.
When Palin gave birth to her fifth child, a son named Trig Paxson, in April and announced he had Down Syndrome, she was widely ruled out of the veepstakes. But, conversations obviously continued outside public view.
The Palin pick gives McCain a counterweight to the historical nature of the Democratic ticket, which features the first African American nominee of either party. Palin is the first woman to serve as the Republican vice presidential pick; Democrats crossed that Rubicon in 1984 when Geraldine Ferraro was Minnesota Sen. Walter Mondale's running mate in an election where the Democratic ticket was swamped by President Ronald Reagan.
In choosing Palin, McCain also doubles down on the maverick argument; Palin is the face of reform in the Republican party nationally and is clearly not of Washington -- a key element of her biography given how negative voter sentiment toward the nation's capital is currently.
Palin is also strongly pro-life and well liked by conservatives of all stripes, and her selection will be greeted with a huge sign of relief among those within the Republican base who feared that McCain might pick a pro-choice candidate like Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) or former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.
Palin won quick confirmation from the fiscal conservative wing of the party in the form of Club For Growth president Pat Toomey. "At a time when many Republicans are still clinging to pork-barrel politics, Governor Palin has quickly become a leader on this issue," said Toomey. "She is a principled reformer who understands how badly wasteful spending has marred the Republican brand."
Palin's newness on the national scene is both her greatest strength and her biggest weakness.
On the one hand, she will be greeted as a fresh face with a compelling personal story that voters will likely react well to. (Palin also has a son serving with the Army in Iraq, an interesting parallel with Democratic V.P. nominee Joe Biden.)
On the other, picking Palin complicates the argument forwarded by McCain that Obama's short resume makes him ill-equipped to be commander in chief. In picking a candidate who has been a statewide elected official for less than two years, McCain will be hard pressed to argue that experience in public life is a critical component of serving in national office.
Democrats are also likely to hone in on questions of whether Palin exerted her influence over her public safety commissioner to fire a state trooper involved in a contentious divorce from Palin's sister. Palin has denied any wrongdoing. In the immediate aftermath of the Palin news, Democrats were already moving the story around to reporters -- signaling their intent to make it a major issue.
Stay tuned for much more on the Palin pick. . . .