Surprise choice

McCain picks Alaska governor as running mate

Palin is first woman on a Republican presidential ticket

Election 2008

August 30, 2008|By Paul West | Paul West,

ST. PAUL, Minn. - John McCain's surprising, and risky, decision to run with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin signals his intention to make reform a central theme of his campaign, analysts and Republican politicians said yesterday.

The little-known Palin, who will be the first woman on a Republican presidential ticket, is being presented as a younger, female version of McCain: an outsider who's been unafraid of challenging the Republican establishment in her state.

Analysts called McCain's move, which remained secret until yesterday morning, a bold one that could enhance his appeal to women voters. But they warned that picking an inexperienced vice presidential candidate could also prove very costly.

Palin's slender resume threatens to undermine one of McCain's leading advantages against Barack Obama in the presidential contest: his reputation for expertise in military and security matters.

Polls show that voters, by a wide margin, regard McCain as better qualified to serve as commander in chief. Indeed, Obama's vulnerability on that score was widely thought to be a main reason he turned to Delaware's Joe Biden, a foreign policy veteran, as his running mate.

In Palin's national debut at a midday rally in Ohio, the 44-year-old governor was self-assured as she thanked McCain for choosing her. She gave a nod to Geraldine Ferraro, the first and only woman on a national ticket until now, and praised Hillary Clinton for her "determination and grace."

Palin borrowed Clinton's words in noting that "Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America." Then she appealed to women voters to "shatter that glass ceiling once and for all" by supporting a McCain-Palin ticket.

The Republican presidential candidate has been targeting disaffected Clinton supporters, and Palin could appeal to cultural conservatives in that group. However, her anti-abortion record may make it harder to attract hard-core Clintonites for whom abortion rights is an important issue.

McCain called the Alaska governor "exactly who I need ... to fight the same old Washington politics of 'me first and country second.' "

Democrats questioned McCain's judgment, and reports that he barely knew Palin before choosing her could reinforce what some say is a reputation for impulsiveness.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the highest-ranking woman in the government, said that picking a vice presidential candidate "is one of the most significant and telling decisions a presidential candidate can make. ... Why, when the country is fighting two wars, facing an uncertain economy and an energy crisis, did Senator McCain make the choice that he did?"

President Bush called it an "exciting" pick and described Palin as a "proven reformer."

A ticket composed of an Arizona senator and an Alaska governor who was born in Idaho would be the most western-leaning in the nation's history. That could help the Republicans in western battlegrounds such as Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, party strategists said.

Palin, a mother of five, is in her second year as governor of one of the nation's least populous states. With no record of involvement with national security or foreign policy issues, she steps into the harsh glare of a presidential campaign where her words will be scrutinized in merciless detail.

"It makes the experience issue more difficult" for McCain, said Neil Newhouse, a Republican pollster.

Some Republican politicians called that an understatement.

"The two words being heard the most around here this morning are Dan Quayle," said one of the early arrivals for next week's Republican National Convention in St. Paul, who asked to speak anonymously. The reference was to the Republican vice presidential nominee in 1988, who had been a senator and congressman for almost 12 years at the time.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of McCain's closest friends, described Palin as "tough. She's very tough."

But in a TV interview he was at a loss for words when asked whether she had traveled overseas or ever met with world leaders. "I don't know where she's traveled to," he said on CNN.

Vice presidential candidates seldom determine the outcome of the election. A widespread perception that Quayle was unprepared for the job did not keep President George H.W. Bush from winning.

However, the peculiar circumstances of this year's contest could make McCain's choice unusually important. Polls show that a significant number of voters have questions about the Arizona senator's age, and the Palin pick only highlights that issue.

Yesterday was McCain's 72nd birthday. He has been treated for melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, and would be the oldest person to become president if he wins in November.

Palin is 2 1/2 years younger than Obama and will be one of the youngest candidates ever on a major party ticket.

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