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With Pick, McCain Reclaims His Maverick Image

Advisers say John McCain had hoped to shake up the race. In choosing as his running mate Sarah Palin -- a virtually unknown Washington outsider -- he succeeded.
Advisers say John McCain had hoped to shake up the race. In choosing as his running mate Sarah Palin -- a virtually unknown Washington outsider -- he succeeded. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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McCain's heart may have been with two supporters of abortion rights: former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, a fellow Vietnam War veteran and an old McCain pal from their days in the House, and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, the independent Democrat from Connecticut who has been a regular traveling companion of McCain's on the campaign trail.

The choice of either, however, could have blown apart the Republican convention over the abortion issue. Lieberman, in particular, would have been a problematic pick. He and McCain agree on little beyond the Iraq war and foreign policy, but his selection would have reinforced the closeness between McCain and Bush.

For all the enthusiasm Palin's selection generated among conservative constituencies, many GOP strategists were privately bewildered by McCain's decision.

One Republican strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid view, said in an e-mail, "I would rather be arguing with conservatives about abortion than with the Democrats about a lack of experience on our own ticket."

"She really destroys the 'not ready' mantra," another strategist noted.

But other Republicans believe Palin could help the ticket in the industrial states of the Midwest if she is seen as they believe she will be: a working mother of strong character and convictions, and a fresh voice from outside Washington calling for an end to business as usual.

Her Western conservatism, they said, could also provide the ticket an added boost in the Rocky Mountain states, which Democrats have targeted this year. Obama is competing hard in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Montana. The presence of an Alaskan and an Arizonan on the Republican ticket may be reassuring to undecided Western voters.

The harsh Democratic reaction to her underscored the stakes for Palin. For all her attractive attributes, she is so little known that the first side that succeeds in defining her nationally may win the battle. Democratic leaders and Obama spokesman Bill Burton attacked her as an inexperienced right-winger who should not be trusted with the second-highest office in the land.

Republicans believe the fierceness of the Democratic attacks could backfire.

Obama, however, declined to join such attacks and even distanced himself from his campaign's rhetoric. Clinton offered congratulations to Palin and only mild criticism.

David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager, described Palin as a politician "with a compelling story" who is likely to be an effective campaigner. But, he said, she will be campaigning on McCain's agenda, which he argued is a continuation of Bush's. "Our view is that Obama's and McCain's agendas are on the ballot," he said.

That is always the case in presidential campaigns. In the end, vice presidential candidates generally make little difference. But Friday's uproar over Palin -- positive and negative -- says this is one pick that, at least in the short term, might make a difference.


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