Sarah Palin was not expecting to be chosen as Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential running mate. Few were. But the Alaska governor chose to accept the party’s call to duty and in doing so sent shock waves through the presidential race.
“This pick was a shock, maybe the biggest surprise in many, many years,” says Dr. John Baick, professor of history at Western New England College in Springfield, Ma. “It is clearly a pick made to shake things up, and it is bold, but it is also risky and perhaps cynical.”
Baick, for one, says it was bold to pick such a dark horse, although that is tempered by her personal story and her social conservative credentials. Baick says it was also bold in the sense that this was the only pick that could overshadow the successful Democratic National Convention.
It was also risky and cynical, Baick says.
“Risky because she is such an unknown in national politics, because it suggests that the McCain camp is giving up on the idea of experience as the key, and because sexism – like racism – is one of those issues that we know is out there but is hard to gauge and predict,” Baick explains.
“Cynical because this is clear effort to go after disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters via gender, even though Palin and Clinton have very little in common in terms of political agendas. Will this be seen as the bold choice of a maverick? Or the cynical choice of an opportunist? That will be a very important question this season.”
However, that is not the most important question in Baick’s eyes. The most important question, he says, is still probably going to be about Obama and whether the nation believes he is ready to lead.
Still, it has been a long, long time since the choice of vice president has really mattered. Baick challenge people to think back to the last 30 years or so.
“The pick of Geraldine Ferraro was historic but inconsequential in a year that Reagan cruised to victory. The pick of Dan Quayle was controversial, but only ended up hurting George H.W. Bush slightly in an election that turned on whether Dukakis was sufficiently presidential and patriotic,” he says. “Perhaps the pick of Lyndon Johnson was the last time that a vice president truly made a difference in the outcome.”
Baick does wonder if the McCain camp has some internal poll numbers in battleground states that it finds worrying. This is not a pick made by someone who is confident of victory. Baick says Palin is not exactly a desperate pick, but it is a risk.
“But hats off to the McCain camp if one believes that all publicity is a good thing. Brilliant in its execution, total surprise in its delivery. Of all the other candidates whose names were in the mix, only Lieberman or Huckabee could have come close to this level of attention,” Baick says. “But it wouldn’t have been this much of a surprise or this kind of attention-grabber. The question is now how does this shape the Republican National Convention?”