Aug. 29, 2012 -- Four years ago today, when Sen. John McCain of Arizona confirmed that he had picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate, the reaction across the country – indeed, in many newsrooms – was about the same: "Sarah Who?"
There was some debate about how to pronounce "Palin." "Is it a soft or hard 'A'?" someone asked. Reporters started making calls.
Mitt Romney's decision to add Rep. Paul Ryan to this year's ticket came as a bit of a surprise, too. Analysts keeping close watch on the "veepstakes" might have had him on their lists, but he was hardly a favorite.
By late Friday night, Aug. 10, that had changed. After a few days of whispers that a decision was near and that Ryan could, indeed, be the guy, the Romney campaign made it official. Paul Ryan would be the vice presidential nominee.
No one asked how to say his name. After 14 years in Washington, the Wisconsin congressman, 42, has more than a record; he has a brand.
But their easily apparent differences aside, the entries of Palin in 2008, and Ryan this season have added strikingly similar dynamics to their respective races.
And it goes beyond just the aesthetics, although there is that, too. Ryan today is just two years younger than Palin was when she addressed the convention in St. Paul, Minn., four years ago. They both have young children, a passion for exercise and a taste for hunting (although Ryan prefers crossbows to Palin's helicopters and guns).
More importantly, they both appeal to a part of the Republican Party that's caused fits for McCain and Mitt Romney: The base.
Ryan, with his deficit-hawk bible called "The Roadmap," is Romney's inside man. Question Romney's dedication to the conservative cause? Well, your answer is Ryan. Palin was unfamiliar to the national media but, like Ryan, her mere presence quieted internal worries about McCain's interest in keeping the party line.
"They both acknowledge the problem," Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin told ABC News. "Ryan is definitely a wonk and a numbers guy, but Sarah Palin doesn't just talk. She took down the entire 'good old boys' establishment in Alaska. You don't do that by just talking."
Martin, who first spoke with Palin at a reception after they were both named to Time magazine's 2010 "Most Influential" leaders list, has worked in close contact with Ryan.
"Yes, [Palin] is a mom working in Alaska and he's a man who's been in Washington for years," Martin said. "But it doesn't matter. Our people are going to vote for the person who will repeal the Obama health care law and commit to balance the budget without raising taxes."
While Palin, 48, is almost always identified as a "tea party darling" or its most popular leader, Ryan also has close ties to the movement.
"We met with him, in his office, before the debt-ceiling [debate]," Martin said, recalling a private meeting early last year. "We met with him, his legislative coordinator -- ours was there, too -- and we went through 'The Roadmap.'"
On a more cosmetic level, their convention speeches are expected to follow similar guiding themes. Both were crafted by the same GOP speechwriter, Matthew Scully. Scully, who also worked in George W. Bush's White House, is drafting Ryan's convention address alongside another Bush holdover, John McConnell.
Ryan's speech is being crafted in tiers, according to two Romney-Ryan aides. An adviser described Ryan as the "main driver." Ryan's congressional staff -- Conor Sweeney, Joyce Meyer and Andy Speth -- are helping play up his Wisconsin roots, while Romney adviser and Ryan's good friend, Dan Senor, coordinates between the two camps.
Palin, of course, used the 2008 Republican National Convention as a launching pad for a unique career as intra-party iconoclast and leader. Her engaging speech (think "hockey moms" "pit bulls with lipstick") was the high point of a troubled candidacy and, if only for a moment, made it seem like the Republican ticket might soar past Barack Obama.
What's been largely forgotten, though, is the near panic inside the party and among McCain campaign officials before Palin's address. There is none of that this time around. Ryan knows how to give a speech. He is a prolific fundraiser, having brought in $3.1 million by the end of March, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, despite facing no legitimate threat to his congressional seat.
Both are also popular with a certain community inside the much-scorned Republican "elite." The Weekly Standard's editor and founder Bill Kristol pushed hard for Palin and Ryan, respectively, to be selected as the GOP's vice presidential candidate, and his argument has now twice won the day.
"I think Ryan makes Romney a better candidate," Kristol told Politico Aug. 12. "After the Romney-Ryan ticket wins, I'm looking forward to retiring from the VP-picking business."
If the Romney team wins, Kristol, the conservative writer, will have "picked" his first successful nominee.
What inspires the base, however, by its very nature, is likely to alienate some independent or undecided voters. And the very apparent policy differences between Ryan and Romney, like with McCain and Palin, can very quickly spiral into real trouble for a campaign.
In Ryan's case, the issue sprung up last week when Missouri congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin made his remarks about rape and abortion. Days later, Ryan was stuck answering questions about his work with Akin on an anti-abortion bill in Congress, and trying to explain how his views could be reconciled with his running mate's less-conservative position.
Romney believes abortion should be illegal, with exceptions made in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is imperiled. Ryan would only allow for the latter. When ABC News asked Ryan whether he found it difficult adjusting his positions to jibe with the other half of the ticket, he said no, and allowed that Romney's stance was, for him, a "step in the right direction."
Palin and McCain also had some headline-grabbing policy disagreements, but their efforts to explain away the divisions by saying "a couple of mavericks aren't always going to agree on every issue," lost traction. Palin notably "went rogue" when McCain campaign officials gave up the ghost in Michigan, diverting funds and time to other states, telling Fox News she disagreed with the decision and thought it was a mistake.
Ryan is unlikely to provide such fireworks; he's more practiced, more polished. His ties to the Republican establishment are much stronger than Palin, whose power base always lay well outside Washington. But even as their future paths are sure to draw them apart, for now, at this moment, Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin don't look so very different.