Palin, the daughter of two public-school teachers and a former runner-up in the Miss Alaska Beauty Pageant, began her career as a television sports reporter in Anchorage, Alaska, the state's capital. In 1992, she was elected to the city council of Wasilla, an Anchorage suburb of some 8,000 people, and was elected its mayor in 1996.
After being defeated in a race for lieutenant governor of the state in 2002, she won the state's top office in 2006 after defeating both the Republican incumbent and a popular Democratic challenger on a clean-government platform.
Presidential candidates often choose running-mates who can deliver key states or regions at election time. But, with a population of less than 700,000, Alaska, which has voted solidly Republican in every presidential race since 1964, offers very little to the McCain campaign in electoral terms.
In the absence of any national experience or reputation, Palin's appeal to McCain thus appears to reside mainly in her persona and image as a woman, a dynamic and relatively young politician, a corruption-fighter, and what she herself describes as a "hockey mom" of five children -- the oldest, a soldier about to be deployed to Iraq, and the youngest, a victim of Down Syndrome.
A practicing Roman Catholic, Palin has been staunchly anti-abortion, even opposing it in cases of rape or a threat to the mother's life -- a position that will certainly help activate the Republicans' core Christian Right constituency which has long been distrustful of McCain.
"Gov. Sarah Palin is an outspoken advocate for pro-family policies that energise social conservatives," said Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council (FRC), a powerful Christian Right group, in reaction to her selection.
She is also a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful lobby, most of whose activist members and officers are solidly Republican. In 1996, she supported the presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan, the leader of the so-called "paleo-con" faction of the party who expressed great enthusiasm about the choice Friday.
On more substantive issues, she has been a strong supporter of more drilling for oil in her state, including in the protected areas of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) -- which McCain opposes -- and the Outer Continental Shelf.
"I beg to disagree with any candidate who would say we can't drill our way out of our problem," she said recently. During her gubernatorial campaign, she said she remained skeptical about how much greenhouse gas emissions contributed to global warming, also putting her to the right of McCain on that issue.
While most analysts agree that Palin's nomination is likely to help mobilize the Republican Party's right-wing core, the assumption that she would draw support from more independent-minded voters, particularly those who supported Clinton's candidacy, drew skepticism from both Democrats and more independent analysts.
"If John McCain thought that choosing Sarah Palin would attract Hillary Clinton voters, he is badly mistaken," said California Sen. Barbara Boxer. "The only similarity between her and Hillary Clinton is that they are both women. On the issues, they could not be further apart."
David Gergen, a prominent commentator and a top political aide to former presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, also questioned whether a "pro-life, gun-toting woman" would appeal to Clinton backers.
And Clinton herself released a statement in which she praised the selection of a woman as McCain's running-mate as "historic" but warning that the ticket's policies "would take the nation in the wrong direction."
Indeed, both Democrats and a significant number of non-partisan commentators like Gergen argued that the pick could actually backfire, particularly with respect to the Republicans' long-standing argument that Obama, in contrast to McCain himself, lacked the experience -- especially in foreign policy -- to be commander-in-chief at a time when Washington is engaged in two wars, and tensions between the U.S. and Russia are once again on the rise.
"Certainly the choice of Palin puts to rest any argument about inexperience on the Democratic team and while Palin is a fine person, her lack of experience makes the thought of her assuming the presidency troubling," said New York Sen. Charles Schumer, who called the choice a "real roll of the dice."
"I particularly look forward to the Biden-Palin debate," he added, a reference to the foreign policy expertise of Obama's running-mate, Sen. Joseph Biden, three-time chairman of the chamber's Foreign Relations Committee.
"Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency," said an Obama campaign spokesman shortly before Obama and Biden issued a joint statement congratulating Palin and describing her as "an admirable person (who) will add a compelling new voice to this campaign."
The choice of such an obviously inexperienced person as his running-mate was particularly remarkable given McCain's past acknowledgement that his age required that he choose someone with the knowledge and experience to take the reins of the government in the case of his death or incapacity.
"We all know that the highest priority [as a vice-presidential selection] is someone who can take your place," he said earlier this year
If elected, McCain, a cancer survivor who turned 72 Friday, would be the oldest man to be inaugurated for the first time as president. Reagan was first elected in 1980 at the age of 69 and re-elected in 1984.
"Palin will have to reassure voters of her steadiness when she speaks at the Republican convention and when she debates Joe Biden," wrote the editors at the right-wing National Review Friday. "McCain, meanwhile, will have to carry most of the foreign-policy load himself and showcase his good health."
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Albion Monitor August
30, 2008 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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