John McCain names the Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate.
McCain picks female Alaska governor as running mate
John McCain succeeded in stealing the spotlight from his Democratic rival and earned his reputation as a maverick today when the presumptive Republican nominee shocked the nation by naming the Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. The surprise decision to pick Ms Palin, a first-term, female governor who is unknown nationally, was announced as the two made their first joint appearance at a rally in Dayton, Ohio. The choice came hours after the new Democratic candidate Barack Obama gave an historic acceptance speech amid a flurry of media attention, though much of that glare was quickly diverted to Mr McCain's nominee for vice president. "When you get to know her you are going to be as impressed as I am," Mr McCain told his supporters. "She's got the grit, integrity, good sense and fierce devotion to the common good that is exactly what we need in Washington today." Ms Palin, a mother of five who describes herself as an "average hockey mom," will join Mr McCain on a tour of crucial battleground states before the Republican National Convention kicks off in St Paul, Minnesota next week. For her part, Ms Palin told the party faithful that being chosen represents "a great challenge," adding "some of the greatest opportunities come unexpectedly." And few expected Mr McCain to tap Ms Palin, who becomes the second woman ever to appear on a major party ticket. The move is a go-for-broke gamble by Mr McCain to rally support, particularly among disgruntled Hillary Clinton loyalists on the Democratic side. "Having a woman on the ticket in this election cycle will not be a negative for McCain," said Heath Hall, senior policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, who added that the real benefit is that Ms Palin signals a new direction for the party. "I think John McCain is saying this is a new Republican Party, this is not George Bush's Republican Party," Mr Hall said. "McCain picked a vice president who shows we are looking forward at the future, not looking back." That could go a long way toward challenging Mr Obama's image as the change candidate and could give a shot in the arm to a campaign that some have said lacks the dynamism of the Democratic ticket. Mr McCain, a veteran senator who turned 72 today, is vying to be the oldest president ever sworn in. At 44, Palin is three years younger than Mr Obama and is far removed from the politics of Washington. But perhaps Ms Palin's firm opposition to abortion and her other conservative views are what tipped the scales in her favour. Right-wing Republicans have expressed concerns over Mr McCain's conservative credentials, including his past support of stem cell research and belated opposition to abortion. Ms Palin, a protestant, is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association and also supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which Mr McCain has long opposed. "She is definitely a diehard conservative, which I think helps counter the perception of McCain as being a moderate," Mr Hall said. Republicans also may be eyeing her 80 per cent approval rating in Alaska, where Mr Obama has made a strong push for votes, or they may be betting that her middle-class roots will soften portrayals of Mr McCain as an elitist. But Ms Palin also comes burdened with political baggage, including a conspicuous lack of national political experience, which is one of Mr McCain's favourite criticisms of Mr Obama. Before she was governor, Ms Palin was the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, population 5,000. "It's not clear to me what she brings to the ticket, besides being a very fresh face," said John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. "She was the mayor of a small town that was smaller than Obama's state legislative district." Rhodes Cook, an independent elections analyst based in Virginia, said the novelty of Ms Palin could soon wear off. "It seems to be something that is most exciting right now in the moment," Mr Cook said, calling the pick a roll of the dice. "By the time we get to St Paul next week, it will have sunk in?then it gets serious." Ms Palin's first job - and some say her most vital ? will be to take on Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden in a series of pre-election debates. Mr Biden, a foreign policy heavyweight who is known as a fierce debater, could outmatch Ms Palin. "It's striking how good the Biden pick looks now," Mr Weingart said. More red meat for Democrats is that Ms Palin has recently come under fire for alleged ethics violations. A special investigator hired by the state legislature is looking into whether she tried to have her sister's ex-husband, a state trooper, fired. Still, Mr McCain chose her over other, more experienced candidates, including Joe Lieberman, an Independent Connecticut senator and longtime friend, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who won 4.5 million votes in the primary election. Despite the risks, Ms Palin's candidacy shows that Republicans too have a flair for the dramatic and the ability to reinvent themselves. "I think it's very impressive that the McCain campaign could pull off a surprise with all the attention and advance speculation that was devoted to this choice," said Mr Weingart, adding that Mr McCain now will be able to lay claim to an historically significant ticket. "We are either going to have the first African-American president or the first female vice president," he said. "So some glass ceiling is going to be broken." @email:firstname.lastname@example.org