Presidential Campaign’s One-Two Punch

By Karin Caifa in St. Paul, MN

Surprised by John McCain’s announcement today that he’s tapped Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate? You’re not the only one. While Palin was on the GOP radar, the 44-year-old mother of five, didn’t generate nearly as much buzz as guys like Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, or even Joe Lieberman. Perhaps the Arizona senator took advantage of the week between rival Barack Obama’s decision and his own. He’s countered the Democrats’ one-two punch with a ticket that provides a stark contrast, and features some of the same assets.Both the Democratic and Republican tickets feature balance, most notably by pairing a new, fresh face, with an elder statesman. Obama fights criticism that he lacks experience by teaming up six-term senator and Foreign Relations Committee chairman Joe Biden. McCain – who is 72 years old today — opted to quell worries about the vigor of the GOP ticket by choosing a young Washington outsider. Palin, who opposes abortion and belongs to the National Rifle Association, will likely satisfy the conservatives who have been tepid to the moderate McCain’s bid so far.

McCain’s choice also means that both party tickets offer voters the chance to be part of history. Barack Obama is the Democrats’ first African-American presidential nominee, and would be the country’s first black president. Palin is the first woman to run on a Republican ticket, and would be the first woman to serve as vice president.

For both tickets, there’s also room for backlash, especially among the uncommitted voters that Obama and McCain are so feverishly courting. Some were puzzled that a Democratic campaign that has pitted “change” vs. “experience” during the primaries and into the late summer of the general election campaign would tap Biden, with over three decades in the U.S. Senate. And the jilted Hillary Clinton supporters McCain boasts of attracting may resent Palin’s potential proximity to the Oval Office.

Also in the candidates’ choices, a bit of role reversal. Obama has broken the traditional campaign mold at several turns, most recently by text messaging his vice presidential pick to supporters and – of course – last night’s open-stadium acceptance speech before 75,000 supporters in Denver. But when it came to choosing his running mate, Obama made a relatively safe choice. Obama could have made a splash by joining forces with another newcomer like Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, or by crossing party lines to choose someone like Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel. Instead he went with the Beltway veteran Biden.

McCain, however, who’s never been accused of being too flashy on the trail, went with the wild card in choosing Palin. And he’s hoping that his bold move distinguishes his ticket from Obama-Biden at the polls in November.

Karin Caifa is a political producer with CNN who contributes to this blog via CNN’s Running Mates.

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