WASHINGTON, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- Sen. John McCain continues to confound his critics: His announcement Friday of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate was an exceptionally bold move that carries some risks but promises a powerful payoff if it works out.
The risks, of course, are that Palin could prove a Dan Quayle embarrassment for McCain, R-Ariz. In 1988 Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush chose as his presidential running mate the young, energetic and rising Sen. Dan Quayle, R-Ind. Quayle, in fact, had many fine qualities, but he got off to the wrong start from his very first media exposure and became an albatross around Bush's neck through the rest of the campaign, which Bush still won handsomely against Democratic contender Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.
That is much less likely to happen to Palin, not least because she remains remarkably beautiful as the mother of five children in her 40s. She also has worked as a journalist, studied journalism, and was the runner-up for the Miss Alaska title in 1984, giving her an experience of looking graceful and poised under media attention that is going to serve her in good stead in the coming months.
But Palin brings far greater strengths to the McCain campaign than her poise and looks. She has been a standout success over the past two years as a crusading, no-nonsense, honest-conservative governor of the vastest state in the Union. She has exposed corruption, made sure it was successfully prosecuted, and shut down an entire raft of useless pork-barrel projects, most notably the $400 million "Bridge to Nowhere" so eagerly pushed by veteran Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.
Palin will bring vigor and authority to McCain's policy on energy. She is famous for her love and knowledge of the Alaskan environment, but is also a strong proponent of drilling for oil in the Arctic Wildlife Natural Refuge and other promising sites in her enormous state.
McCain's decision to announce Palin the very morning after Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., gave a stirring and well-received speech to close the Democratic National Convention in Denver pulls the media spotlight rapidly off Obama and may stall his hopes of getting a double-digit bounce from his convention.
If McCain had picked a respected but expected and conventional choice of running mate, such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Obama could have hoped to see McCain stalled in the polls through his own nominating convention in Minneapolis next week, giving the junior senator from Illinois, the first African-American ever to win the presidential nomination of a major party, a potentially commanding lead going into the last two months of the long campaign.
Instead, Palin's youth, attractiveness and media appeal as only the second major-party female vice presidential nominee in U.S. history -- and the first ever Republican one -- will give McCain a potentially significant boost when he flies into Minneapolis.
McCain looks bold, decisive and commanding for his vice presidential choice of Palin, whereas Obama's selection of Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., a 36-year veteran of the Senate, undercut the Democratic nominee's long-established claim to be the candidate of change in the nation's capital.
The Palin pick is also potentially deeply embarrassing for Obama because it will continually revive and underscore concerns about his perceived misogyny.
Obama repeatedly was less than gracious to Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., through their long and bruising primary campaign, and he often reacted badly and publicly to her attacks. It was striking that he did not choose Clinton as his own running mate, despite his dire need of the support of her 18 million voters, and he pointedly refused to select another credible woman running mate, such as Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius or Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano -- both states he desperately needs to win. By contrast, Palin, who was born in Idaho, has the potential to do well campaigning in the Southwest, the Midwest and the West.
Finally, Palin, with her deep Christian religious convictions, her exemplary home life, her strong anti-choice opposition to abortion on demand and her exceptionally strong record on fiscal conservatism and probity as governor, is the dream candidate for conservatives and the Christian right -- core elements of the Republican Party that were long distrustful of McCain.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, acclaimed Palin as "a popular and proven reformer with a record of accomplishment and real executive experience."
He described her as "a strong advocate for taxpayers, using her veto to cut wasteful spending and … an important ally for Americans demanding action on an 'All of the Above' energy reform strategy to help lower fuel costs."
David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, went even further, hailing the Palin pick as "great news for conservatives, for the party and for the country. … I predict any conservatives who have been lukewarm thus far in their support of the McCain candidacy will work their hearts out between now and November for the McCain-Palin ticket."
As we have noted in these columns earlier this week, the Democratic convention got off to a far too slow and self-indulgent start for Obama and his party, and only truly focused and started to gather steam on Night 3 when former President Bill Clinton pulled it together.
Obama looked poised to finally get a powerful, lasting boost in the polls to propel him ahead of McCain with his fine closing speech at Invesco Field Thursday. But McCain's timing and boldness in announcing his vice presidential pick now threaten to take the wind out of Obama's sails. If the Palin pick catches fire with the public -- and the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis next week goes smoothly -- McCain may manage to stay neck-and-neck with Obama going into the final stretch.