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Continued: Editorial: McCain surprises, but is Palin ready?

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  • Last update: August 29, 2008 - 7:10 PM

On Friday, Republican presidential candidate John McCain showed his capacity to surprise the nation's professional political observers. No one in our office vice presidential pool had picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and our guess is that we're not alone among the nation's wagering journalists.

That may say something unflattering about political reporting. We think it also says something less-than-reassuring about McCain's decisionmaking.

The Arizona senator himself has said that the most important test of a vice presidential candidate is whether that person is fully qualified to be president on short notice. The fact that Friday was McCain's 72nd birthday underscores that criterion's importance in his administration.

Palin, 44, has been governor of a geographically remote, sparsely populated state for less than two years, and, until Friday, she had a negligible national profile. She manages one of the nation's smallest and most oil-dependent state budgets -- one that, unlike most states, has been running whopping surpluses since oil prices soared.

Her only previous state service was an 11-month stint as chair of the state's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. She was mayor and a city council member for 10 years in Wasilla, population 9,000. She's a former television sports reporter, a participant in a family fishing business, a former Miss Wasilla, a high school basketball star (nickname: "Sarah Barracuda''), a hockey mom and a PTA leader.

Those are the credentials of an active citizen and a beginning governor. The McCain-Palin ticket has its work cut out for it to convince Americans that those credentials meet the presidential readiness test.

The GOP duo's start at making that case highlighted the history they are making in offering voters their first chance to vote for a Republican woman for vice president. They deserve to be proud of that achievement, and they were gracious in acknowledging earlier runs by two Democrats, vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and presidential contender Hillary Rodham Clinton this year.

But if McCain believes that choosing Palin will lure the votes of disappointed Clinton backers, he may be miscalculating. Palin's opposition to legal abortion and gun control and support for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve will be hard for many Clinton supporters to swallow.

For other voters, especially on-the-fence independents, the choice of Palin may be an appealing reinforcement of McCain's maverick appeal. She's certainly not a Washington insider, and with the ''bridge-to-nowhere'' decision last year she showed how she could stand up to special interests.

Minnesota's reaction to Palin's candidacy is laced with added emotion because McCain passed over Gov. Tim Pawlenty, his national campaign cochair and loyal surrogate. Pawlenty has stumped the nation regularly on McCain's behalf for almost a year. Snubbing him for the less experienced Palin stings Minnesota pride. But Pawlenty and his fans can take solace in the likelihood that the visibility he gained while on McCain's "short list" will serve him well in the future.

As recently as Thursday, Pawlenty was in Denver, pitching the notion that Barack Obama lacks the requisite experience to be president. Selecting Palin undercut that line of attack. At next week's convention in St. Paul, we hope McCain gives Americans a more fulsome explanation of why he thought that, in this case, experience didn't matter.

  • CLAIM TO FAME

    Palin's most notable accomplishment as governor may have been to stop last year the so-called "bridge to nowhere" that would have connected Ketchikan, Alaska, to its airport on a nearby island. The proposed $398 million bridge had been awarded more than $200 million in federal funds, and it became a symbol of excessive federal pork-barrel spending.

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