Sarah Palin, the new household name

Regarding John McCain's choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, here's what I wrote five weeks ago, when I put her on a list of possibilities: "As the first woman to run that state, she's a potential mold-breaker...She has conservative credentials for the base (she has signed a lot of budget cuts, and she's a lifetime NRA member). She's enormously popular at home, typically drawing support from 85 percent of the citizenry. She's colorful and young. She eats mooseburgers, rides snowmobiles, amd smoked pot when it was legal in Alaska. And not that this matters at all, but she's a former beauty queen; in the words of conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg, she might help draw the voters of 'visually unimpaired heterosexual men.'"

Well, that doesn't quite scratch the surface. So here's a bit more about pluses and minuses. I'll have more to say in a Sunday print column, which will be cross-posted in this space.

Potential upsides: She's a reformer (among other things, she canceled the infamous "bridge to nowhere" pork project), and that could help McCain reclaim the reform/maverick image that he enjoyed before he commenced his rightward pandering. She's beloved in the anti-abortion community. As a western governor, she might help McCain compete more effectively in some of the western states that could prove crucial in November. In terms of symbolism, her presence on the ticket (as the first female GOP candidate, and a mother of five besides), she shakes up the usual Republican paradigm and perhaps could help McCain attract some of the independent suburban women who are cool to Barack Obama. Over the next week, at the GOP convention, she's going to be a great story.

Potential downsides: She's been a governor out there for a grand total of two years, with zero Washington experience, thereby raising the question of whether she has the qualifications to reside one heartbeat away from the presidency in the 9/11 era; in other words, her presence might make it tougher for McCain to wield that same argument against Obama. McCain has said repeatedly that defeating al Qaeda is the seminal issue of our time, yet now - at age 72 - he thinks that Palin has sufficient credentials to wage that fight in the wake of any temporary or permanent incapacity. Seeking to defend her already, the McCain camp points out that she commands the Alaska National Guard (which is a bit rich, since the Republicans laughed at Bill Clinton in 1992 because he had merely commanded the Arkansas National Guard.) We'll have to see how she fares on foreign policy in her debate with Joe Biden. If things go wrong for McCain in November, she could wind up in the history books alongside Bill Miller, the Republican running mate in 1964.