Analysis: McCain gambles with surprise pick

ByABC News
August 29, 2008, 5:54 PM

DENVER -- John McCain shook up the presidential race Friday and targeted disaffected supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton with a vice presidential pick that defied the conventional wisdom.

Sarah Palin, the first-term governor of Alaska, has no experience in Washington and is unknown in national politics. She will be the least experienced nominee for national office by a major party since Richard Nixon picked the first-term Maryland governor, Spiro Agnew, as his running mate in 1968.

But she offers McCain benefits as well, including the possibility of exciting social conservatives in the Republican base and perhaps strengthening him among the women voters who make up a majority of the electorate. She will be the first woman on a national ticket since Democrat Walter Mondale chose Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate in 1984.

McCain demonstrated that he was willing to throw a long ball, a Hail Mary pass in an election in which more than eight in 10 Americans say they are dissatisfied with the country's direction.

And he managed to seize the spotlight from Barack Obama the morning after the Illinois senator accepted the Democratic nomination with a speech before 84,000 people at Invesco Field at Mile High here.

"What separates her from others is that at a time when Republicans have suffered from the taint of corruption, she represents clean politics," says John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in California. "The public stereotype of a Republican is a wrinkled old guy taking cash under the table. One way for Republicans to break the stereotype is with a female reformer."

Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan on MSNBC called it "the biggest political gamble, I think, just about in American political history."

Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who also had been mentioned as a possible running mate, praised Palin on CNN as "a breath of fresh air" but acknowledged, "I don't know too much about her."

Palin has a distinctive background: the first woman governor of Alaska, an independent-minded reformer elected in 2006, a fiscal conservative and someone with experience dealing with oil drilling and other energy issues.