8/30/08   Thoughts on Sarah Palin…

John McCain pulled a joker out of the deck yesterday when he announced Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, and I think it’s going to be fascinating to see how it plays.

At first glance it seems like an obvious attempt to pull in the Hillary Clinton voters who may still be upset she’s not the Democratic nominee. While that was surely part of the calculus, there is more. Palin is philosophically to the right of McCain, and can shore up his base in a way that Joe Lieberman or Mitt Romney could not. Whether that’s a plus or not in the long run is unclear.

Another unanswered question is gender versus ideology, how many women will vote for her because she’s a woman and a mother even if (especially among Clinton supporters) she’s much more conservative than they are?

Did McCain give up a core strategy in painting Obama as inexperienced by picking a running mate even greener than he is, or will Palin’s youth and enthusiasm make up for it?

Is she too enthusiastic? Onstage in Dayton Palin seemed to overshadow McCain, hardly acknowledging him after her speech. It seemed to me during her address that McCain might be thinking “If I could put the pin back in this hand grenade now I would”. She may be so caught up in her meteoric rise (albeit in Alaska) that she doesn’t know enough to know just how much she doesn’t know.

She is clearly bright, attractive and smart. But is a woman who’s joys in life are “hunting, fishing and snowmobiling” ready for life on the national and international stage? She will be coached, and (if possible) kept on point by McCain’s people during her public appearances between now and November, but what might she say in interviews (and what has she already said in older interviews that may yet come to light)?

We will learn a lot in her debates with Joe Biden. Biden is clearly more qualified in foreign affairs, legislative and judicial matters, but he must be careful not to be too aggressive or condescending. It’s a double edged sword, pull back too much and (given low expectations) she gains credibility (as George Bush did against Al Gore). Go for the throat (as Biden likes to do), and voters become sympathetic to her.

Only time will tell if Sarah Palin will turn out to be brilliant choice by John McCain, or Dan Quale in a dress.

My hunch is we’ll know the answer well before November.