John McCain Picks Alaska Governor Sarah Palin As His Running Mate

Speculation had centered on Joseph Lieberman and Mitt Romney.

To steal the thunder or not to?

That was the dilemma facing presumptive Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain this week as he prepared to announce his closely held pick for a running mate to face the team of Democratic nominee Senator Barack Obama and his vice-presidential pick, Senator Joseph Biden.

In the end, McCain took the high road, releasing Thursday night a commercial congratulating Obama on his historic nomination — and news broke Friday morning (August 29) that he has chosen Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin to fill out the Republican ticket, a senior campaign official reportedly confirmed to CNN. Like Obama’s pick, McCain’s choice had been kept under wraps until the announcement was revealed.

McCain officially announced his running mate at a rally in Dayton, Ohio, on Friday.

A surprise choice, Palin, 44, is a first-term governor who defeated Frank Murkowski in the Republican primary in 2006 and went on to defeat former Governor Tony Knowles, a Democrat, in the general election. She advocates drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and is strongly pro-life. Palin also opposes same-sex marriage but has stated that she has gay friends and is receptive to gay and lesbian concerns about discrimination.

Palin, who once worked as a television sports reporter and has a son serving in the Army, has championed to fight global climate change and has an approval rating in the 90s. She hunts, eats moose meat, ice fishes and holds a lifetime membership with the National Rifle Association. Palin has admitted she used marijuana, before Alaska outlawed it in 2006, but claims she did not like it and does not use it now. “I can’t claim a Bill Clinton and say that I never inhaled,” she once said.

In 1984, she finished second in the Miss Alaska beauty pageant, following her win in the Miss Wasilla contest earlier that year. During the state pageant, she won Miss Congeniality and played the flute.

Palin is just the second woman to be added to a presidential ticket, following Democrat Geraldine Ferraro, who was the running mate of Vice President Walter Mondale in 1984.

Before introducing Palin on Friday, McCain said he’d spent “the last few months looking for a running mate who could shake up Washington and make it work again for the people that are counting on us.” He said he had “many good people to choose from, and I am very grateful to all of them and honored by their willingness to serve with me.”

He called Palin the “right partner” with “an outstanding reputation standing up to special interests,” adding, “When you get to know her, you’ll be as impressed as I am.” In a statement from the McCain campaign, Palin was praised for bringing “Republicans and Democrats together within her administration,” and was described as having “a record of delivering on the change and reform that we need in Washington.”

According to CNN, Palin’s term as governor has had its fair share of controversy. A legislative investigation is still looking into allegations that Palin fired Alaska’s public-safety commissioner because he refused to fire the governor’s former brother-in-law, a state trooper. Palin has acknowledged that one of her staffers — who she later suspended — had made a call to a trooper in which the staffer suggested he was speaking for the governor.

She chairs the National Governors Association’s Natural Resources Committee, which is focused on legislation that will ensure federal policies take state priorities into account in agriculture, energy, environmental protection and natural-resource management.

CNN also reports that Palin said in June that she thought McCain should choose a governor as his running mate and expressed interest in serving on a national level, “but I don’t think it’s going to happen on this go-round, though.”

Palin is a comparatively unfamiliar figure on the national political scene — considerably less so than some of the other possibilities mooted for the job. Those include former Democratic/ now independent Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman; former Pennsylvania governor and one-time head of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge; and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Lieberman, while praised for his ability to bring in crucial independent voters, women and disaffected conservative Democrats, was considered a long shot for the ticket because of his support of abortion rights, a position that is anathema to many in the party’s Christian conservative base. Ridge also would have been a problematic choice due to his support of abortion rights.

Speculation fell early and often on Romney, who dropped out of the presidential race earlier this year after a surprisingly strong showing in some of the early primaries. Romney, who also had trouble attracting the party’s evangelical base because he is a Mormon, was still considered to be a strong contender because of his ties to Michigan, a crucial toss-up state in the election, where his father served as governor.

While Obama’s choice of the older, more experienced Biden was considered a tactical move to reassure voters unsure of the one-term Illinois senator’s foreign-policy experience, McCain’s choice of Palin was equally crucial given the Arizona senator’s advanced age and history of cancer. McCain turned 72 on Friday.

Palin pledged to spend the next 67 days taking the McCain campaign’s message of reform across the country to “every voter of every background in every political party, or no party at all.”

[This story was originally published at 11:05 am E.T. on 08.29.2008]

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