McCain’s big gamble

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain stunned the political establishment Friday by choosing as his running-mate the little-known Alaska governor with virtually no national, let alone international, experience.

Political pundits said the choice of first-term Gov. Sarah Palin appeared calculated both to fire up the his party’s right-wing base and reach out to Democratic and independent women who strongly supported Sen. Hillary Clinton and were embittered by her defeat at the hands of Sen. Barack Obama, who formally accepted the Democratic presidential nomination at the party’s convention in Denver Thursday night.

“It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary Clinton left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America,” the 44-year-old Palin declared Friday at a political rally in Dayton, Ohio, where McCain introduced her as his pick. “It turns out that the women in America aren’t finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling.” Palin’s reputation as a populist reformer who has not hesitated to challenge Alaska’s Republican establishment over corruption issues was also seen by McCain and his advisers as likely to enhance his own image as a maverick attractive to independent “swing” voters in the Nov. 4 election.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, the McCain-Palin ticket will be confirmed at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota next week. Palin, the daughter of two public-school teachers and a

former runner-up in the Miss Alaska Beauty Pageant, began her career as a

television sports reporter in Anchorage, Alaska. In 1992, she was elected to the city council of Wasilla, an Anchorage suburb of some 8,000 people, and was elected its mayor in 1996.

A practicing Roman Catholic, Palin has been staunchly anti-abortion, even opposing it in cases of rape or a threat to the mother’s life — a position that will certainly help activate the Republicans’ core Christian Right constituency which has long been distrustful of McCain. “Gov. Sarah Palin is an outspoken advocate for pro-family policies that energise social conservatives,” said Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council (FRC), a powerful Christian Right group. She is also a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful lobby, most of whose activist members and officers are solidly Republican.

During her gubernatorial campaign, she said she remained sceptical about how much greenhouse gas emissions contributed to global warming, also putting her to the right of McCain on that issue. While most analysts agree that Palin’s nomination is likely to help mobilise the Republican Party’s right-wing core, the assumption that she would draw support from more independent-minded voters, particularly those who supported Clinton’s candidacy, drew scepticism from both Democrats and more independent analysts.

“If John McCain thought that choosing Sarah Palin would attract Hillary Clinton voters, he is badly mistaken,” said California Sen. Barbara Boxer. “The only similarity between her

and Clinton is that they are both women.” And Clinton herself praised the selection of a woman as McCain’s running-mate as “historic” but warning that the ticket’s policies “would take the nation in the wrong direction.” — IPS