The Ticket: McCain-Palin

John McCain has rocked an already unsettled presidential race by choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate — a relative unknown who could simultaneously help him with his base, attract disaffected Clinton voters and undercut his own arguments about Barack Obama's inexperience.

The presumptive GOP nominee will formally announce his choice at a noontime rally in Dayton, Ohio. 

In selecting Palin, McCain counters the historic nature of Barack Obama’s candidacy. She’s young — 44, three years younger than Obama — and she’s a woman, the first to land a spot on the ticket of a major political party since Walter Mondale picked Geraldine Ferraro 24 years ago. 

Disheartened Clinton supporters who were thinking about crossing over to vote for McCain may now have one more reason to do so. 

Voters on the right will like Palin’s conservative credentials: She’s opposed to both abortion rights and gay marriage, supports increased domestic drilling for oil, is a lifelong member of the National Rifle Association and has a son in the U.S. Army. 

But voters worried about Obama’s relative lack of experience — a central theme of both the Clinton and McCain campaigns — will have new cause for concern about the Republican alternative. 

Obama spokesman Bill Burton seized immediately on the experience issue, saying McCain has put "the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency." 

Jim Jordan, a veteran Democratic strategist, told Politico, "After his attacks on Obama's readiness for the job, it'll be amusing to hear a 71-year-old with a history of health problems justify this decision."

A Democratic operative unaffiliated with the Obama campaign dismissed Palin as "Geraldine Quayle."

A former high school basketball star and beauty queen, Palin has limited experience in elected office: She served for four years as a member of the Wasilla City Council and four more years as the mayor of Wasilla, and she hasn’t yet completed her second full year as governor of Alaska. 

Joe Biden, by contrast, has spent more than three decades in the U.S. Senate. He may be a formidable opponent in their Oct. 2 vice presidential debate in St. Louis; on the other hand, his aggressive approach may not play as well against a young woman — even one who grew up hunting and fishing in Alaska — as it would have against someone such as Mitt Romney. 

In choosing an outsider like Palin, McCain has bolstered his case that he — not Obama — is the real agent of change. Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff of California and Dennis Moore of Kansas, at the Denver airport when they heard rumors that McCain would choose Palin, admitted that they didn’t even know how to pronounce Palin’s name. 

But in her short political career, Palin has become known — at least in Alaska — as a reformer. Long before the ethical problems of the Alaska GOP were front-page news in Washington, she was working to clean up the state’s government and her own party.

As a member of Alaska’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Palin pushed an investigation that ultimately led the state’s GOP party chairman to resign from the commission. Earlier this month, she endorsed Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, who is still waiting to hear whether he has defeated ethically challenged Rep. Don Young in the House race's GOP primary on Tuesday. 

Last September, she called on Republican Sen. Ted Stevens to give a fuller accounting of his relationship with the oil-field services company Veco. But in the wake of Stevens’ indictment in July, Palin declined to call immediately for his resignation, saying it would be “premature” to do so until she learned more about the case against him. 

Palin herself has been the subject of a robe involving the firing of her former brother in law, a state trooper who was fighting over child custody with Palin’s sister. According to the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan has said he felt pressure from the governor’s office to fire the trooper. A Palin aide reportedly raised the governor’s concerns about the trooper in a phone call with Monegan; Palin has put the aide on leave pending a legislative investigation. 

"Now we can talk about Ted Stevens and Don Young and Republican corruption every day," said a Democratic strategist. "That's great for us."

Asked earlier this month whether the investigation would have any effect on her chances of becoming McCain’s running mate, Palin told MSNBC’s Larry Kudlow: “Well, it shouldn’t disqualify me from anything, including progressing the state’s agenda here towards more energy production so we can contribute more to the U.S. Nor should it dissuade any kind of agenda progress in any arena because, again, I haven’t done anything wrong. And through an investigation of our lawmakers who are kind of looking at me as a target, we invite those questions so that we can truthfully answer the questions.” 

In a blog post on the National Review’s web site this morning, Kudlow said he’d be “thrilled” if Palin were the pick. “She’s a strong pro-life, supply-side, drill-drill-drill ethics reformer who has worked hard to change the Ted Stevens culture-of-corruption problem in Alaska,” he said. “A cheap-shot Democratic legislative investigation of Palin appeared to slow her momentum down a few weeks ago. But John McCain would electrify everyone if this choice pans out.” 

Stevens' former chief of staff Mitch Rose called McCain's selection of Palin "a fantastic choice."

"She's down to earth, a hunter and fisherman, really connects well with the people of Alaska," Rose said.
Rose noted that Palin's approval ratings in Alaska are "sky high," over 80 percent in some polls.

"She's really kind of the new face of the party," Rose added.

Known as “Sarah Barracuda” when she played on her high school’s state championship team, Palin competed in the Miss Alaska contest before graduating from the University of Idaho. She worked for her husband’s fishing business and, sometimes, as a TV sports reporter, then entered politics by winning a seat on the Wasilla City Council in 1992.

She went on to become the city’s mayor, then sought the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor in 2002. She lost, but Gov. Frank Murkowski appointed her to the Oil and Conservation Commission.

By 2005, Murkowski was in ethical trouble, and Palin decided to make a run for the governor’s office. She won, beating former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles 48 percent to 41 percent. As governor, she has pushed hard for a natural gas pipeline in Alaska — work that will fit well within the GOP’s focus on energy issues.

As rumors swirled about McCain’s pick this morning, Nick Ayers, executive director of the Republican Governors Association, pointed to Palin’s experience in energy policy and her strong pro-life views in saying that she would be a “very popular” pick among Republican governors.

Palin is married and has five children.

Her oldest son, Trick, turned 18 last year and enlisted in the Army on the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Palin’s youngest child, Trig, was born in April and diagnosed with Down syndrome.

As the Anchorage Daily News reported, at the time, Palin sent an e-mail to friends and family in which she said: “... Trig will be a joy. You will have to trust me on this." The paper said Palin wrote the e-mail in the voice of God and signed it, “Trig’s Creator: Your Heavenl Father.”

Palin’s husband, Todd, took a leave from his job as a production operator at BP-run facility after she was elected governor. He is one-quarter Yu'pik Eskimo. In an interview with The Associated Press last May, he said that he and the then-Sarah Heath eloped in 1988 because they couldn’t afford a wedding.

"We had a bad fishing year that year, so we didn't have any money," he said. "So we decided to spend 35 bucks and go down to the courthouse."

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