Morning news anchors are tripping over themselves trying to figure out who is going to be John McCain’s VP pick. This on the day after Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Denver. What should be a day after to go through highlights from that speech and provide some post-election afterglow instead becomes a masterfully calculated announcement from the McCain folks to drive the news cycle today.
Breaking news at 7:39 am PDT: Matt Lauer of NBC News and Today announced that McCain has chosen Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate. The 44-year old staunch conservative and mother of five, has been in office for two years. Chuck Todd of NBC News said just an hour ago that three years ago, she was just a mayor of a small town in Alaska. This morning she will appear in Dayton, OH with McCain at a rally designed, as only the GOP can muster, to present what is a rather bold and shrewd choice for the Arizona Senator and his campaign.
So while the Keith Olbermanns and Wolf Blitzers get tongue tied and in effect become part of the story today because they too were left in the dark because they (and us) know nothing about Palin, let’s analyze why we now have the first Republican male-female Presidential ticket in US history.
First, it makes perfect sense to show McCain is thinking outside the box, away from the conventional choices the press has been mentioning the past several weeks.By selecting a woman, McCain is clearly targeting women voters, and especially those moderate women and even Democratic Hillary Clinton supporters who are disaffected or angry by the way their candidate has been treated. Despite all the love and party unity mandated in Denver this week, some of those “18 million cracks in the glass ceiling” are just not ready to ride the Obama-Biden express train.
The news that Hillary Clinton was not even considered to be Obama’s VP pick only strengthened the resolve of these supporters. Some who heard Hillary speak on Tuesday night, in what was a strong, rousing, proto-feminist speech, still were wondering why it wasn’t Hillary who was standing with Obama last night amid all the confetti, streamers, fireworks and closing Bruce Springsteen performance at Invesco Field in front of a crowd of 84,000. McCain’s choice is saying this: you guys didn’t pick a woman; I did.
Second, Palin fills an important gap for McCain by shoring up his conservative base. In one fell swoop, he is able to reclaim the mantle as being the maverick (what a brave pick no matter what the party heads say) and as the social and fiscal conservative (take that Rush Limbaugh!). No one will doubt that this ticket is 180 degrees away from Obama/Biden, and perhaps it makes sense for McCain to have a photogenic, take-no-prisoners-yet-soccer-Mom-ish younger woman like Palin to show America the wide chasm that exists between both party choices for President and Vice-President. From what little we know about her record as Governor, she has never shied away from her political views and attitudes.
Yet in a state where she holds an incredible 87% approval rating, that may not say too much because Alaska is so remote from the rest of the 49 states. On every issue that the media is furiously researching about her at this very second, from abortion to same-sex marriage and offshore drilling (an issue particularly acute in Alaska), Palin’s record is decidedly conservative and completely in line with McCain’s. Or better put, she helps place him back into the traditional (as opposed to “moderate” or “scary”) conservative camp. I’m sure that the next 66 days will unveil much more information about Palin, personal and public —her son who was born with Down’s Syndrome, her lawsuits against the Department of the Interior, hell, even her chocolate chip cookie recipes, this will be a VP choice that will have the media salivating. I can’t wait for Biden-Paulin VP debate when Biden wonders whether to pounce on his female opponent, or not.
Then there will be the criticism that, with only two years as governor, Palin is a heartbeat away from being President and that she doesn’t have the experience for this –exactly the jab that Team McCain has been leveling at Obama, and which may well be the reason why Obama’s poll numbers are not as high as they perhaps should be. McCain’s message and attack ads have resonated, and it hasn’t helped that, until last night’s speech, Obama has not fought back decisively. McCain’s campaign, it must be remembered, also timed their ad to get former Hillary supporters to be run during the commercial break after her speech in Denver on Tuesday night.
Part of the calculation now seems to be that yes, she may lack experience but now it’s their turn to become the celebrity of the moment precisely because we are all so curious. That she is a woman very well to the right may not be such a liability in the short term only because we know little about her. Her husband is a champion snowmobile rider. Imagine that this is the only bit of trivia we know about her, and this is bound to drive the “best political team in the world” at CNN nutty. But then again, on the morning after history was made yesterday in Denver, look who is dominating the news headlines today. And that’s just what Team McCain wanted as they march into next week’s Republican National Convention in Minneapolis.