Sarah Who? Why John McCain Picked VP Palin

Republican running mate opens culture debate, appeals to conservatives & women.

Aug. 29, 2008— -- Sen. John McCain's surprise choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to join the Republican presidential ticket represents a clear attempt to exploit a culture gap in the presidential race -- reviving a tactic that the Bush-Cheney team used to great effect in 2004.

Palin's selection will help McCain appeal to female voters -- particularly disaffected supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who remain skeptical of Sen. Barack Obama.

"The women of America aren't finished yet and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all," Palin said in the maiden McCain-Palin event in Dayton, Ohio, wasting no time making her case to women.

Palin cited Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice presidential running mate of a major party in history, and Clinton's "determination and grace in her presidential campaign."

The first female Governor of Alaska also made a point of referencing her five children, the latest of which was born in April, and her son who will soon be deployed to Iraq.

Her selection as vice president comes during the week of the 88th anniversary of women's suffrage, a fact also noted in her address.

High Risk, High Reward McCain Pick for VP

In a high-risk gambit with the potential for an equally high payoff, McCain is targeting a weakness in Obama's base and exploiting it.

But more broadly -- and perhaps more potently -- Palin helps McCain connect with working-class and rural voters.

Republicans greeted the selection with glee, anticipating the contrasts between a gun-toting self-described "hockey mom" and an effete, Harvard-educated ticket-topper on the Democratic side.

She's "exactly who I need," McCain of his selection. "She's exactly who this country needs to help us fight the same old Washington politics of me first and country second."

Choosing Mitt Romney -- whose personal wealth exceeds even the McCain family's -- would have done little to answer Obama's charge that McCain is out of touch.

Alaska's Governor Shines in Spotlight of 2008 Presidential Campaign

Palin -- while a virtual unknown nationally -- allows Republicans to tell a different story, of an attractive young mother who has sought out leadership positions, shining in a remote corner of the nation.

Her choice energizes the base and could pull back conservatives who might have been wavering on McCain back into line.

McCain's Palin Pick Raises Experience Gap Questions

Democrats pounced on the selection for Palin's lack of experience; they are likely to cast Palin as Dan Quayle in a dress.

The Obama campaign immediately pointed out that the small Alaska town where Palin served 10 years as mayor has 5 percent the population of Obama's former state senate district.

"Given Sarah Palin's lack of experience on every front and on nearly every issue, this vice presidential pick doesn't show judgment: it shows political panic," shot Rep. Rahm Emanual, D-Ill., in a written statement.

"A Hail Mary pass," echoed Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "While Palin is a fine person, her lack of experience makes the thought of her assuming the presidency troubling."

Democrats were already relishing the thought of a one-term governor of Alaska versus a 35-year veteran of the Senate, Joe Biden, D-Del., in the one and only vice presidential debate. But Republicans were quick to defend.

"It is pretty audacious for the Obama campaign to say that Governor Palin is not qualified to be vice president . . . She has spent her time in office shaking up government in Alaska and achieving results. Senator Obama has spent his time in office running for president," said Tucker Bounds, a McCain campaign spokesperson.

McCain himself has acknowledged that there's more riding on his choice of running mates, given his age.

Going with Palin strips McCain of one potentially powerful argument: He will not be able to effectively belittle Obama's lack of experience when he chose for No. 2 someone without a hint of a foreign-policy credential.

But it's Obama -- not McCain -- who has sought to elevate his life story and biography into qualification.

And -- as with Obama's selection of Biden as his running mate -- it's a biography that excites the base around stories as yet to be told.