So CNN reports
. It's an intriguing choice, and I think a dangerous one, for both the Democratic and the GOP tickets.
What do I mean by that? Simple: Palin is a risky choice for McCain. It could turn out really well, or it could turn out really badly. The breakdown on Palin shows someone who has the potential to really create movement for McCain, but whose main benefits are speculative, unproven, or based on shaky assumptions.
So what are the key points to consider? First, Palin's a woman, and McCain has of late been very focused on trying to grab disaffected Clinton supporters over to his side. Contrary to media reports, Obama actually is running better than the typical Democrat with the double-X set, but McCain clearly believes that this support is soft and that he can bite into it. Democrats will undoubtedly focus on Palin's unabashedly pro-life record as a reason for women not to take the bait. And I fully expect Obama to deploy Hillary Clinton as a virtual shadow for Palin on the campaign trail to neutralize whatever advantage she may bring.
Second, Palin, like McCain, has a not entirely deserved good reputation on ethics issues. The travails of Alaska Republicans on the corruption front are well known, with one Senator indicted and one Congressman in the fight of his life both due to scandal. Since Palin rode into office specifically as a challenge to that branch of the state party, it's unlikely to me that she'll be tarred with guilt by association, and she may even try to jujitsu the troubles of Stevens and Young into benefits. On the other hand, Palin's been mired in a serious scandal of her own in recent weeks, allegedly pressuring termination of a state trooper who is mired in a custody dispute with her sister. McCain clearly is hoping that she'll be treated deferentially on this score by the media. Much of her effectiveness on the trail will hinge on how much that issue taints her credentials as an outsider and reformer. Is she the real deal, or does she get false credibility by leaping the not-so-high-bar of "better than Frank Murkowski"?
Third, Palin is not known as an attack dog, and is far less experienced than her Democratic counterpart, Joe Biden. In terms of the VP debate match-up, the DNC must be salivating at the moment. I have to think Biden would rip her to shreds when they come face to face (unless, of course, he makes one of his ever-threatening gaffes). Now, the question is whether anyone actually cares about the VP debate. I think it matters, but then I'm a political junkie. To the extent that it does have an affect, Democrats have a clear advantage.
Which brings us to fourth: what does Palin bring to the campaign trail? I don't see her as a particularly exciting campaigner. I think she may suffer from Sebelius syndrome: great resume on paper, but does it translate to the stump? We'll see on that score, but Palin is largely untested here. You can talk about Obama's inexperience, but it was only a few years ago that Palin was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska: population 5,470. And unlike Obama, she's done nothing to demonstrate she has the type of big-ticket drawing power necessary to play ball at the highest levels. Maybe she does, but as I said, it's a risk.
So the best case scenario for McCain is that Palin a) picks off female voters, b) portrays the image of a reformist, youthful, crusading outsider, and c) surprises with strong campaign skills and holds her own against Biden. The worst case is that a) female voters prefer Obama's policies to Palin's gender, b) her reformist credentials don't hold water, and c) Biden and other Democratic surrogates eat her alive on the campaign trail. Either scenario, to be honest, seems plausible to me.
Ultimately, I think Palin is a better choice for McCain than many of the other finalists, including Romney, Pawlenty, and Lieberman. She doesn't actively anger the base (unlike Lieberman), she isn't loathed by everyone (unlike Romney), and she at least offers the potential for some game changing movement (unlike Pawlenty). And she probably pushes Alaska out of play, which is actually an issue this cycle.