If politics is a game of chess, Senator John McCain attempted to checkmate Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama on Friday (August 29) when he announced his choice of surprise candidate Sarah Palin, the first-term governor of Alaska and the second woman in history to be a major-party vice-presidential candidate, as his running mate.
Following the path into history that Obama strode Thursday night by becoming the first black man to attain a major party's nomination for president, McCain took his own step into the record book by becoming the first Republican to nominate a woman as his vice president (Geraldine Ferraro was Democratic candidate Walter Mondale's running mate in 1984). The choice sets up a historic election that will either see America's first black president or its first female vice president.
Palin, a 44-year-old first-term governor and mother of five (her second son, who suffers from Down's syndrome, was born in April), won a tightly contested battle in the Republican primary in 2006 to defeat Alaska's then-incumbent governor. Her selection as McCain's VP is a surprise not only because her name was not mentioned as being on McCain's short list, but because she comes from a sparsely populated state that is not considered crucial in this likely close election. (On Friday afternoon, Slate.com posited the notion that the unrelenting lobbying of a 21-year-old blogger may have had something to do with McCain's choice.)
But a list of her credentials and her dramatic backstory offer plenty of proof why McCain, who has often championed himself as a maverick, chose her as his running mate in a surprise announcement that has created a palpable buzz about the Republican National Convention, which kicks off on Monday.
A staunch pro-life, gun-rights conservative who is in favor of drilling for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Palin also opposes same-sex marriage.
Introducing his running mate on Friday, McCain said he'd spent the past few months looking for someone who could shake up Washington and "make it start working again for the people that are counting on us." He said he was proud to have found someone with executive experience who can "stand up to those who value their privileges over their responsibilities, who put power over principle and put their interests before your needs," lauding Palin for fighting bureaucracy, special interests, corruption and the wasting of taxpayer money.
"She's got the grit, integrity, good sense and fierce devotion to the common good that is exactly what we need in Washington today," McCain said. "She knows where she comes from and she knows who she works for. She stands up for what's right and she doesn't let anyone tell her to sit down. ... She's exactly who I need; she's exactly who this country needs to help me fight the same old Washington politics of politics of 'me first and country second,' ".
Her comparative lack of Washington experience was not lost on the Obama campaign. "Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency. Governor Palin shares John McCain's commitment to overturning Roe v. Wade, the agenda of Big Oil and continuing George Bush's failed economic policies — that's not the change we need; it's just more of the same," Obama spokeswoman Adrianne March said in a statement.
However, a statement from Obama and Biden said: "We send our congratulations to Governor Sarah Palin and her family. [Her selection is] yet another encouraging sign that old barriers are falling in our politics. While we obviously have differences over how best to lead this country forward, Governor Palin is an admirable person and will add a compelling new voice to this campaign."
In addition to being McCain's 72nd birthday and Palin's first joint appearance with her running mate, Friday was also her 20th wedding anniversary. Her husband, Todd, is a union member and production operator on Alaska's north slope as well as a champion snow-machine racer, she said. She also mentioned that their eldest son, Track, enlisted in the Army on September 11, 2007, and will deploy to Iraq on September 11 of this year. (Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden's son Beau is also scheduled to deploy to Iraq before the end of this year.)
Nearly 88 years to the day that the United States first gave women the right to vote, Palin becomes the first woman since Ferraro to get the nod to be the second on a major party's bill. In her debut on the stage next to McCain on Friday, she paid tribute to another woman who made history this year — Senator Hillary Clinton — in a clear attempt to win over the disaffected supporters of the former Democratic presidential hopeful.
Praising the 18 million votes Clinton got in her hard-fought primary battle with Obama, Palin said Friday, "It turns out the women of America aren't done yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling after all!"
CNN said it was unclear what kind of relationship McCain and Palin had prior to Friday's announcement, but on Friday he called her the "right partner" with an "outstanding reputation standing up to special interests," and "when you get to know her, you'll be as impressed as I am."
A beaming Palin took the stump, with McCain smiling broadly just over her right shoulder, and told the crowd in Dayton that some of life's greatest opportunities come unexpectedly, and her selection as McCain's running mate was certainly one of those surprises.
"Along with fellow reformers in the great state of Alaska, as governor I've stood up to the old politics as usual, to the special interests, to the lobbyists, the big oil companies and the good- old-boy network," Palin said with a laugh, noting that when oil and gas prices went up so dramatically recently, she sent a large portion of state revenues from the boom back to taxpayers in her state.
Palin once worked as a television sports reporter and was nicknamed "Barracuda" on her high school basketball team due to her tenacity when taking them to the state championship and shooting the winning shot on a broken ankle. Despite her stance on drilling in the wildlife refuge, Palin claims she has championed the fight against global climate change. She hunts, eats moose meat, ice fishes, holds a lifetime membership with the National Rifle Association and has an approval rating in the 90s. Palin has admitted that she used marijuana before Alaska outlawed it in 2006, but claims she did not like it and does not use it now.
In 1984, she finished second in the Miss Alaska beauty pageant, following her win in her hometown's Miss Wasilla contest earlier that year. During the state pageant, she won Miss Congeniality and played the flute. The youngest governor in Alaska history said on Friday that she was "your average hockey mom" who hadn't considered public office and was happy raising her children, serving as the team mom and coaching basketball on the side, until she got involved in the PTA and was elected to city council and then mayor of her hometown.
"My agenda was to stop wasteful spending and cut property taxes and put the people first," she said, noting that she went on to fight corruption as chairman and ethics commissioner of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. "When I found corruption there, I fought it hard and I held the offender to account."
McCain praised Palin for battling corruption and painted her as a Washington outsider who has "stopped government from wasting taxpayers' money," as well as a former union member with executive experience who understands the "problems ... the hopes and the values of working people" and knows what it's like to worry about health care and mortgage payments.
"It's always safer in politics to avoid risk — to just kind of go along with the status quo — but I didn't get into government to do the safe and easy things," Palin said. "And this is a moment when principle and political independence matter a lot more than just the party line, and this is a man who has always been there to serve his country, not just his party. This is a moment that requires resolve and toughness and strength of heart in the American president, and my running mate is a man who has shown those qualities in the darkest of places and in the service of his country."
In a campaign that has often failed to catch fire with the Republican Party's conservative base, Palin could go a long way toward helping McCain win over both members of his own party as well as still-angry Clinton supporters and independents who appreciate his bold choice in a running mate.
Don't miss out on the action: MTV News and our Street Team '08 will be on the ground at both conventions to sort through all the speeches, streamers and ceremony to find the information you need to choose our next president. And head to Choose or Lose for nonstop coverage of the 2008 presidential election. And after history is made in Denver, MTV News will help you make sense of it all in "Obama Decoded," premiering Friday, August 29 at 7:30.