John McCain's selection of Republican Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate is a bold gamble.
Bold because Palin is the first woman in GOP history to appear on the presidential ticket. Although her tenure as governor has been brief, she has a record as a tenacious foe of public corruption.
But choosing Palin is a gamble because of her relative obscurity and limited experience. Before winning an improbable campaign for governor 22 months ago, she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, population about 8,000. It's legitimate to ask whether any candidate - male or female, Republican or Democrat - is ready to hold the nation's nuclear suitcase only six years after running a town the size of Doylestown. It's a big stretch.
Interviewed on a cable show last month, Palin wondered aloud, "What is it exactly that the V.P. does every day?" It's a question that Joe Biden doesn't need to ask. Nor does GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, mentioned earlier for the post.
McCain said he chose Palin because she could "help me shake up Washington." He also hopes that Palin will help him win over disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters who wanted the former first lady on the Democratic ticket. McCain won't know until November whether this calculation worked, but history is not a convincing guide. In 1984, when Democrat Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman to run for vice president on a major-party ticket, the Democrats didn't win a majority of female voters.
Palin does have more executive experience than McCain, Biden and Barack Obama combined. And although she has held the governor's seat for only 20 months, she has made the most of it. She took on the state's old-boy GOP network and won a grassroots campaign. She has exposed and repudiated the state GOP's messy financial ties with big oil companies.
A mother of five, Palin, 44, is wildly popular back home for her independence and lack of pretentiousness. She drives herself to work, and sold the previous governor's jet. She pushed through a new ethics law and killed the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" funded by federal pork.
One potential blemish on her record is an ongoing investigation into whether she abused her power in a case involving a family member. Palin's sister is divorced from a state trooper, who allegedly threatened the woman. Palin is accused of firing the state's public safety commissioner because he resisted her pressure to fire the trooper. The governor denies any wrongdoing.
Palin brings solid conservative credentials to the ticket. She is pro-life, a member of the National Rifle Association, and a tax-cutter. In a campaign featuring a heated debate on energy, Palin is an outspoken advocate of greater domestic oil drilling, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Hopefully, she will push equally hard in this campaign for alternative energy sources.
Obama is the first black presidential candidate. McCain's selection of Palin guarantees that this campaign will make history, no matter which team prevails.