Sen. John McCain shook up the political landscape Friday when he picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. At a time when the Republican’s biggest criticism of Democrat Barack Obama is that he lacks the experience necessary to run the country, it is a big risk that the second seat on the Republican ticket was given to a first-term governor with no national political experience.
Palin, 44, is in her second year as governor of Alaska. She was previously the mayor of Wasilla, a town of 9,000.
She is the least experienced major party candidate nominated for national office since Spiro Agnew, then the governor of Maryland, was picked by Richard Nixon in 1968.
“If you are going to go after Barack Obama on experience … this pick makes no sense,” says University of Maine political science professor Mark Brewer.
During the Democratic National Convention this week, the Republican party launched a Web site, www.notready08.com, aimed at showing that Obama, who is in his first term as a U.S. senator after serving in the Illinois Senate, is not ready to be president. They have also criticized Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience.
Sen. Joe Biden, a long-time senator and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, filled these gaps as Sen. Obama’s running mate.
It is also unlikely that the McCain ticket will draw disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters with Palin, who is pro-life and a conservative Christian.
Because of Alaska’s status as an American oil hub, she has focused on energy issues during her time as governor. Her focus on oil and gas production, while protecting the environment and public health, is a plus at a time when energy is a top concern of the electorate.
Palin brings strong Republican credentials to the ticket. She hunts and fishes, is a long-time member of the National Rifle Association, has a son in the military and supports more oil drilling, especially in Alaska. But other candidates, such as Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Tom Ridge, the first secretary of Homeland Security and former governor of Pennsylvania, had similar credentials, and much more experience, which would have strengthened the ticket. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee had similar experience and would have appealed to social conservatives.
In introducing Palin in Dayton, Ohio, on his 72nd birthday, McCain talked of shaking up Washington and standing up to special interests. She talked of challenging the status quo.
Choosing such an unconventional running mate certainly did shake things up. It remains to be seen if it was in the way McCain intended.