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Sen. John McCain announced today (incidentally, his 72nd birthday) that his running mate on the Republican ticket will be Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. The McCain campaign, as quoted by ABC, said,
"Governor Palin is a tough executive who has demonstrated during her time in office that she is ready to be president... Governor Palin has the record of reform and bipartisanship that others can only speak of. Her experience in shaking up the status quo is exactly what is needed in Washington today."
His choice of running mate is unexpected, as former Massachusetts Governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty were the favorite prospective VP candidates during the pre-announcement speculation. The McCain campaign, according to National Public Radio, made a risky pick - one that carries great potential reward, but also a significant chance of undercutting the campaign.
Gov. Palin's pro-life and evangelical stances will appeal to the right wing of the Republican party, which has fallen out with McCain in the past. The McCain campaign also hopes to draw disgruntled supporters of Democrat Hillary Clinton by providing a female candidate, according to the New York Times. Democrats, however, disagree. Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California stated, “If John McCain thought that choosing Sarah Palin would attract Hillary Clinton voters, he is badly mistaken. The only similarity between her and Hillary Clinton is that they are both women. On the issues, they could not be further apart.”
The danger that Gov. Palin poses to the campaign is her lack of experience - she rose from PTA to City Council to Mayor of Wasilla (a town near Anchorage, the capital of Alaska) to Governor, a post she has held less than two years. Since the McCain campaign has so strongly criticized Sen. Barack Obama's lack of experience in foreign policy (and also used his VP pick of Sen. Joe Biden, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as evidence for that criticism), his selection of Gov. Palin as a running mate seems inconsistent. She has drawn attacks from Democrats and the Obama campaign:
"John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency. Governor Palin shares John McCain's commitment to overturning Roe v. Wade, the agenda of Big Oil and continuing George Bush's failed economic policies -- that's not the change we need, it's just more of the same," (from Bill Burton, an Obama campaign spokesman, as quoted by NPR).
So where does John McCain take his presidential bid with 66 days until the election? As his running mate pick indicates, he will likely try to shore up support within his own party (especially women and the religious right) and win over undecided voters by pointing to his own military service and foreign policy experience, which Sen. Obama does not posess. He will also endeavor to make the election a contest between himself and Sen. Obama, as he has often criticized the Obama campaign for trying to make the election about President George Bush. The real question, though, is whether he can make enough of a difference in the next two months to gain a decisive victory over Sen. Obama. With a slowly-eroding support base in the South and Midwest, traditionally Republican strongholds, finding key swing votes will be essential to winning the election. But in a politically charged atmosphere, I think there will be few undecideds, and the divisions within the Republican party (not to mention the legacy of President Bush) may keep the McCain campaign from gaining momentum. As with Sen. Obama's campaign, we'll see how it goes.