Palin, the former mayor of the town of Wasilla, is virtually unknown and untested nationally. That could hurt McCain's argument that Obama, 47, a first-term senator from Illinois, is too inexperienced to handle the White House.
"Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency," said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton, adding that she would work to overturn abortion rights and continue Republican economic policies.
The lack-of-experience angle is getting traction with the press. The AP reports:
She is younger and less experienced than the first-term Illinois senator, and brings an ethical shadow to the ticket. A governor for just 20 months, she was two-term mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, a town of 6,500 where the biggest issue is controlling growth and the biggest civic worry is whether there will be enough snow for the Iditarod dog-mushing race.
"On his 72nd birthday, is this really the one-heartbeat-away he wants to put in the White House?" said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the No. 3 Democrat in the House. "What does this say about his judgment?"
The pick earned McCain praise Friday from evangelicals and other social conservatives who have been skeptical of him. "Conservatives will be thrilled with this pick," said Greg Mueller, a conservative GOP strategist.
The price for that support could be high. Palin's lack of experience undercuts GOP charges that Obama is not ready to be commander in chief. McCain said in April that he was determined to avoid a pick like Dan Quayle, the little-known Indiana senator whom George H.W. Bush put on his ticket in 1988. The choice proved embarrassing.
Quayle "had not been briefed and prepared for some of the questions," McCain said while discussing his vice presidential search. He was clearly aware that, as a septuagenarian, the decision he made about a running mate would be "of enhanced importance."
Four months and one birthday later, McCain's announcement of Palin made clear the paucity of her experience.
"As the head of Alaska's National Guard and as the mother of a soldier herself," the statement said, "Gov. Palin understands what it takes to lead our nation and she understands the importance of supporting our troops."
It seems pretty clear that this choice was aimed at attracting disaffected supporters of Hillary Clinton:
But she could help him appeal to disaffected supporters of Democrat Hillary Clinton, who lost a bruising primary to Obama. Palin noted the achievements of Clinton and Democrat Geraldine Ferraro, who in 1984 became the first woman vice presidential nominee of a major party.
"Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America," she said, referring to the 18 million votes Clinton received in the primaries. "But it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all."
Huckabee also tried to twist the knife that many Hillary supporters seem to feel Obama inserted between their shoulder blades. From MSNBC:
Huckabee also used the Palin pick to reach out to women.
"Governor Palin ... will remind women that if they are not welcome on the Democrat's ticket, they have a place with Republicans," he said.
Palin does have a reputation as a reformer, which may help reinforce McCain's image in that area. Reuters reports:
Alaska's first women governor and the state's youngest chief executive, the 44-year-old Palin gained statewide fame as a whistle-blower calling attention to ethical violations of high-ranking Republican officials, including the chairman of the state Republican Party.
MSNBC reports that there may be some skeletons in Palin's own closet, however, when it comes to ethical issues:
But Palin’s seemingly bright future was clouded in late July when the state Legislature voted to hire an independent investigator to find out whether she tried to have a state official fire her ex-brother-in-law from his job as a state trooper.
The allegation was made by former Department of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, whom Palin fired in mid-July.
“It is a governor’s prerogative, a right, to fill that Cabinet with members whom she or he believes will do best for the people whom we are serving,” Palin told CNBC’s Larry Kudlow in an interview on Aug. 1. “So I look forward to any kind of investigation or questions being asked because I’ve got nothing to hide.”
"A legislative panel has launched a $100,000 investigation to determine if Palin dismissed Alaska's public safety commissioner because he would not fire the trooper, Mike Wooten," the AP wrote earlier this month. "Wooten went through a messy divorce from Palin's sister. Palin has denied the commissioner's dismissal had anything to do with her former brother-in-law. And she denied orchestrating the dozens of telephone calls made by her husband and members of her administration to Wooten's bosses. Palin said she welcomes the investigation: 'Hold me accountable.'"
Although she's not linked to them, Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young are facing legal/ethical troubles. In fact, Stevens' trial will start in late September, so the Alaska Republican Party is a mess. And Palin's trooper trouble could play into that.
It will be interesting to see which story line catches on: "Palin, the reformer/maverick", or "Palin, under investigation?"