Pick Of Palin Sets Up Battle For Female Voters

On his 72nd birthday, John McCain gave the nation a surprise, choosing a 44-year-old running mate whose biggest job so far has been to serve as governor of Alaska for two years.

But the relatively unknown Sarah Palin has a reputation that is a good fit with McCain's. She is a social conservative and known as a government reformer who has bucked her own party.

McCain called her a "trailblazer" who rejects "wasteful pork-barrel spending."

"She's fearless," he said. "Exactly the type of leader I want at my side and the type of leadership we will bring to Washington."

Palin is only the second woman picked for a spot on a major-party ticket. In 1984, Democrat Walter Mondale chose former New York Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate. They lost to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

McCain's choice means that the 2008 presidential race most likely will produce a historic result: the first African-American president or the first female vice president.

Beauty Queen, Hockey Mom

Palin was elected in 2006 over former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles. Before that she had been a member of the City Council and then mayor in the town of Wasilla, where she was known for being friendly to business and cutting property taxes. She also tried to root out corruption as the head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Born in Idaho, Palin was raised in Alaska. She attended the University of Idaho and then returned home to marry her high school sweetheart, Todd Palin. She's telegenic — no surprise, since she was once a contestant in the Miss Alaska beauty pageant. But she's now a self-described hockey mom with five children. The eldest is in the Army and about to deploy to Iraq. She gave birth to her youngest in April, a boy with Down syndrome.

Obama Campaign Reacts

While the McCain campaign has hammered Democratic nominee Barack Obama as inexperienced, the Obama campaign says that the pick of Palin takes the experience issue off the table.

"Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency," Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said in a prepared statement. "Governor Palin shares John McCain's commitment to overturning Roe v. Wade, the agenda of Big Oil and continuing George Bush's failed economic policies ..."

Taking a softer approach, Barack Obama and Joe Biden sent their congratulations to Palin and her family, adding: "It is yet another encouraging sign that old barriers are falling in our politics ... Gov. Palin is an admirable person and will add a compelling new voice to this campaign."

What Palin Brings To The Ticket

Palin has appeal for both economic and social conservatives. She opposes abortion rights and same-sex marriage, and she's a lifelong member of the National Rifle Association.

For all those reasons, Mathew Staver, dean of the law school at Liberty University (which was founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell), called the selection of Palin "absolutely brilliant" and said that Palin "will connect with values voters."

Palin is also a strong advocate of oil and gas drilling and backs a project to build a pipeline that would send Alaskan natural gas to the lower 48 states. So McCain can say he has a running mate who is already working on making the United States less dependent on foreign oil. Palin also supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which McCain does not.

And Palin's biggest asset may be attracting female voters. When McCain presented her Friday at a rally in Dayton, Palin noted that the 88th anniversary of women's suffrage was observed earlier in the week. She also paid tribute to Ferraro.

The McCain campaign has been actively courting women who supported Hillary Clinton during the primaries. So Palin saved her highest praise for Clinton for putting "18 million cracks" in the glass ceiling — one for each of the votes Clinton won in the primaries (and a phrase heard often at the Democratic convention earlier in the week).

Palin added: "Women in America aren't finished yet and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all."

A Hint Of Scandal?

When McCain introduced Palin, he described her as "squeaky clean." She is under investigation, however, to determine if she used undue influence in trying to fire a state trooper. He happened to be going through a messy divorce from her sister at the time.

Analysts Weigh In

"It was certainly a surprising pick," says Dan Schnur, who served as McCain's communications director during the Arizona senator's 2000 presidential campaign.

It's the sort of pick, he says, that you would expect when a candidate is "behind 10 or 15 points in the polls."

But with McCain and Obama running neck and neck, most analysts would anticipate a safer choice. "So it seems the senator and his advisers aren't as confident" as they might be, Schnur says.

Chris Lehane, a Democratic consultant who worked in Bill Clinton's White House, compares the pick to "an Internet stock gamble — very high-risk and (potentially) very high-reward."

It could pay off, he says, if the race is very close and white, working-class women who supported Clinton in the primaries are drawn to Palin.

But the Palin pick "undermines the central thesis of the McCain campaign," says Lehane — that Barack Obama is not ready to be president — by "putting someone a heartbeat away from the presidency ... who has been in office less time than McCain was in a POW cell."

Schnur agrees that the McCain campaign has apparently decided to downplay the "lack of experience argument," noting that Hillary Clinton tried it during the primaries without success.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.