Barack Obama has cultivated the image as the candidate of change, but his vice presidential pick was a safe, inside-the-Beltway, six-term senator. It is John McCain who made the bold choice in deciding who will share his ticket.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee's selection Friday of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin shocked people across the political spectrum. All the talk of McCain's short list of candidates with long resumes was for naught.
The surprise factor no doubt was part of the plan. While Palin, an up-and-comer in the Republican Party and an immensely popular leader in her own state, had occasionally been mentioned as a longshot, most of the attention had centered on more familiar candidates such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge -- even McCain's bosom buddy, U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, who held the No. 2 spot on the Democratic ticket in 2000.
But if choosing Palin was risky, it was a calculated risk. It is apparent McCain hopes to attract women voters with Palin on the ticket, and her gracious nods to both Sen. Hillary Clinton and former vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro during her introductory speech set the stage for wooing disaffected Clinton supporters.
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Palin also is reliably conservative, a nod to the party's base, which has been cool toward McCain. She is avidly pro-life -- with five children of her own, including a 4-month-old born with Down syndrome. She is a lifetime angler, hunter and member of the NRA. She opposes gay marriage and favors drilling for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.
Palin, 44 and a runner-up in the 1984 Miss Alaska Pageant, provides a young, vibrant counterpoint to McCain, who turned 72 on Friday. She has been called both outspoken and charming by admirers, and reportedly is an excellent debater.
As governor, she has had frequent run-ins with members of her own party and successfully campaigned for a state ethics reform bill. As one who tangles with the establishment, she complements McCain's image as a maverick and is someone completely outside the Washington orbit.
Despite these qualifications, choosing Palin was a high-stakes gamble for McCain. For a candidate of his age, who has battled skin cancer and who was physically battered as a prisoner of war, he was obligated to choose a running mate who is unquestionably qualified to be president.
While Palin may well fit that qualification, her record in public life is meager. She has served as governor for less than two years, and before that, her chief experience was as mayor of Wasilla, a town of about 9,000 people.
Her relative inexperience may undermine one of McCain's chief arguments against Obama. And she has had little practice fielding the tough questions reporters and Democrats will throw at her on the big national and international issues.
By contrast, both Obama and his running mate, U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, have been seasoned by a long, tough primary season. Palin is likely to have her hands full in her debate with Biden, a 32-year veteran of the Senate.
But McCain, who has had months to consider his V.P. options, no doubt knows all that and more. He has had ample opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of having Palin on the ticket.
He knows this was a gamble but thinks it will pay off. Clearly, however, it was no small gamble.
Within a few weeks, it is likely to be seen as either extremely shrewd or disastrous.
Voters won't have to wait long to judge the effectiveness of McCain's V.P. pick.
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