Wednesday, September 3, 2008
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain selected Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska to be his running mate, America took notice.
For Democrats and media pundits, Palin's experience and family life have been the source of consternation and obsession.
For Republicans gathered here in Minneapolis-St. Paul for their National Convention, however, Palin's addition to the ticket has given a jolt of energy to the campaign.
At 44, Palin is the youngest governor in Alaska's history and the first woman to hold that post. More particularly, she is the first woman to run on a Republican presidential ticket. But Palin's gender is only one of the reasons that the mere mention of her name generates rousing applause among the GOP faithful gathered here.
Having lost the confidence of their base -- and with it, control of Congress in 2006 -- Republicans have been on the lookout for leaders who can bring the party back to its stated principles: Low taxes and spending, accountability and responsible government.
As a governor who vetoed 13% of her state's budget, saying no to $234 million in pork-barrel and earmark spending in the last year alone, Palin is just such a Republican.
Critics point out Palin has served as governor for less than two years, and was previously a mayor and city councillor of a small town. Folks are fond of saying that a vice-presidential nominee needs to be a credible president, and it is true that the second-in-command needs to be ready to step in if the president becomes incapacitated.
But the fact is Palin is not running for president and America will be voting, or not voting, for John McCain to do that job.
If you really want to press the point, however, Palin was in her fifth year of elective office when Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama was elected for the first time to the Illinois State Legislature.
Moreover, as a former mayor and current governor, Palin is the only person on either party's ticket with executive experience.
She understands energy policy, having served as chairwoman of both the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact and Alaska Conservation Commissions. And from a foreign policy perspective, considering the events in the former Soviet Union of late, it matters at least a little that Palin oversees the only state that neighbours Russia.
Put another way, there is at least as much experience at the bottom of the Republicans' ticket as at the top of the Democrats'.
When this election is over, we will know whether McCain's pick of Palin was the masterstroke enthusiastic Republicans believe it to be, or the cosmic booting his critics claim.
Historically, vice-presidential nominees do not sway all that many votes. But, as we are so often reminded, this is an election like no other, and with a 72-year-old Republican presidential nominee facing a Democratic counterpart who has spent only three years in the Senate, vice presidential picks matter in 2008.
Some say this contest will be decided by the 18 million voters who supported Sen. Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries. How many of them will support the first female Republican nominee for vice president?
Will the GOP base and independent voters turn out to elect a revolutionary ticket with a message of reform, or will scrutiny of McCain's second-in-command find her wanting? One way or another, Sarah Palin is the checkmate.