I wrote a column back in June in which I said Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin would be the
ideal running mate for Sen. McCain. But I never thought he'd pick her.
I underestimated him. And Democrats will underestimate "Sarah Barracuda" at their
At 44, Sarah Louise Heath Palin is the youngest governor in Alaska's relatively
brief history as a state. She's also the nation's most popular governor, with an
approval rating in the 80s.
Ms. Palin is popular in part because of her personal qualities. She earned the
"Sarah Barracuda" nickname as the point guard on her Wasilla high school basketball
team, which she led to the state championship in 1982. Two years later, when she
won the Miss Wasilla beauty pageant (and went on to be the first runner up in the
Miss Alaska contest) she was also named Miss Congeniality. Fire and nice.
But it's mostly because she's been a crackerjack governor, a strong fiscal
conservative and a ferocious fighter of corruption, especially in her own party.
Ms. Palin touches other conservative bases, some of which Sen. McCain has been
accused of rounding. Her eldest son is a soldier. She's a lifetime member of the
National Rifle Association who hunts, fishes and runs marathons. A regular
churchgoer, she's staunchly pro-life.
Her wholesome family and modest lifestyle contrast with the wealth Sen. McCain
married into, and will make it harder for Democrats to portray the GOP ticket as out
of touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans. And it doesn't hurt that Ms.
Palin's husband, Todd, a commercial fisherman and an oilfield worker, is a Native
Ms. Palin is an expert on energy policy, which figures to be the top domestic issue
in this election. (She was Ethics Commissioner of the Alaska Oil and Gas
Conservation Commission before resigning in protest over what she alleged were the
lack of ethics by fellow Republicans.) Her presence on the ticket raises hopes Sen.
McCain will soften his opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife
Kimberley Strassel of the Wall Street Journal has said that Sen. McCain should run
a la Harry Truman against a corrupt, do-nothing Congress this fall. If he
chooses to do so, Ms. Palin is the ideal partner. She took on a corrupt GOP
establishment in Alaska, and pushed a landmark ethics reform bill through the state
legislature. She's as much a maverick as Sen. McCain, though one who elates, rather
than irritates, conservatives.
"If Palin has in fact chosen Gov. Palin, then count me in with both feet," said
radio talk show host Mark Levin, a frequent and often savage critic of Sen. McCain.
"Palin is by all accounts a principled conservative and government reformer who can
contribute mightily to the decision-making that occurs in the White House."
If elected, Ms. Palin would be the first female vice president in history. This
prospect may appeal to some disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters. On the other
hand, pro-abortion women might be put off by her pro-life views.
There is no such thing as the perfect candidate. The knock on Sarah Palin would be
her relative inexperience. She's only been governor for 18 months, and before that,
the mayor of Wasilla, a small suburb of Anchorage.
But it will be difficult for Democrats to attack Ms. Palin on this without calling
attention to Barack Obama's lack of experience. Ms. Palin is the undercard, not the
top of the ticket. And her 18 months as governor (not to mention her two terms as
mayor) is 18 months more executive experience than Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden
Whether this is a brilliant choice or a bad risk will depend on how Ms. Palin
performs on the campaign trail. But if I were Joe Biden, I'd be worried. A former
journalist, Sarah Palin is careful about what she says and says it well, qualities
for which Sen. Biden is not reknowned. Sen. Obama picked Sen. Biden in part because
of his reputed skill as a hatchet man. But if Sen. Biden comes on too hard in the
vice presidential debate, he'll look like a bully. And Alaska is littered with the
bodies of those who tried to bully Sarah Palin and failed.
What's not in doubt is Sen. McCain's rollout of his running mate was brilliant. The
secret was kept until the last minute, which is remarkable in politics. Speculation
about who it would be dominated the morning talk shows Friday, pushing aside
discussion of Sen. Obama's acceptance speech.
Sen. McCain has shown political skills few of us thought he had. I think he's about
to take the new kid to school.