In her introduction to the country on Friday as John McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin made an open appeal to women voters -- a bid that rankles Democratic women, excites Republican women and has others wondering just what this does to an already tight race.
"This will either be the most brilliant choice John McCain could have made or the worst choice since Dan Quayle," said Ember Reichgott Junge, a staunch Hillary Clinton supporter who says she has been waiting for a breakthrough female presidential candidate "most of my life."
Palin appealed to that sense among women voters on Friday. Hours after the nation learned that the 44-year-old mother of five would be the first female GOP vice presidential nominee, Palin invoked Clinton's name in a cross-party bid for support.
"Hillary Clinton left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America," Palin said at her speech in Dayton, Ohio, referring to the number of voters who supported Clinton in the primary. "But it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet, and we can crack that ceiling once and for all."
Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher said that women indeed want to crack that ceiling, but that gender alone won't cut it.
"I know Hillary Clinton, and Sarah Palin is no Hillary Clinton," said Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis.
The choice of a running mate who three years ago was mayor of a town of fewer than 7,000 people was "a little confounding," Kelliher said, and the 67 days left till the election leaves the public little time to evaluate such a newcomer.
But a Republican colleague of Kelliher's in the Minnesota House, Rep. Mary Liz Holberg of Lakeville, said: "This is pretty exciting. I'm impressed with her ability to take on folks in power. She obviously has a lot of moxie and I like that."
Kelliher, who has tussled mightily with Gov. Tim Pawlenty, expressed some sympathy at his being passed over by McCain. Until late Thursday night, many insiders had expected Pawlenty to be named McCain's running mate.
"I feel bad for Tim Pawlenty," Kelliher said. "I think he got a poke in the eye by the McCain campaign. He's worked very hard, been extremely loyal. I don't think Americans or Minnesotans are going to think that Sarah Palin is experienced enough to be just a blink away from the presidency."
A new dynamic
Palin has made a big impression on Alaska in a short time. After logging four years as mayor of the Anchorage suburb of Wasilla, Palin challenged sitting governor and Alaska political giant Frank Murkowski and defeated him in 2006.
Since then, she's taken on the Alaska political establishment, charmed Alaskans with her feisty, independent ways and racked up popularity ratings that have yet to dip below 80 percent.
She is a staunch conservative on social issues, opposing abortion, even in the case of rape or incest, and opposing same-sex marriage.
Charlie Weaver, head of the Minnesota Business Partnership and a close confidant of Pawlenty, said that while he's disappointed that Pawlenty wasn't chosen, he's satisfied that Republicans have an authentic voice with fresh appeal who could play well in Minnesota.
"She's certainly not part of the good old boys' club," Weaver said. "She's nobody's patsy and nobody can accuse her of being a party hack."
A lifelong hunter with a taste for mooseburgers and snowmobiling, who eschews the perks of office, Palin could have considerable appeal in parts of Minnesota.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, who represents the state's Fourth Congressional District, said McCain should not think that women want a female vice president badly enough to overlook serious policy differences.
"I've always had to earn the vote of men and women, young and old, based on the job I'm going to do and the experience I bring," she said. "It would be foolish to think you're going to get a woman's vote just because you're a woman. I don't know a woman who would do that."
Patricia Lopez • 651-222-1288