The Magazine

McCain Finds the Right Wingman

And she's a woman.

Sep 15, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 01 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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The statement said more about the Obama campaign's inability to respond to Palin than it did about Palin.

Jim VandeHei and John Harris, top editors at Politico, which does as much to shape conventional wisdom these days as the New York Times, had initially called McCain's pick of Palin "desperate." After the speech, they wrote that while the pick was "risky .  .  . in the space of one 36-minute speech by Palin, McCain proved that his choice was not a lapse into temporary (or even permanent) insanity."

A longtime McCain adviser points to the Palin selection as one of two "pivot points" in McCain's run for the presidency. The first came when he rejected his campaign team's advice to move away from his support of the war in Iraq in the summer of 2007.

With the nomination in hand, McCain decided that he wanted his vice-presidential selection to be bold and leaned toward picking Joe Lieberman. But after an extensive look at the practical realities of selecting Lieberman and listening to the arguments for and against taking that dramatic step, McCain realized it wouldn't work. He turned his sights to three other candidates: Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, and Sarah Palin. Romney was always a default candidate, but never a likely pick. Pawlenty had several backers among McCain's top advisers and, though McCain likes Pawlenty, he saw the pick as too conventional. There was a bold if risky choice remaining: Sarah Palin.

McCain had been impressed by Palin during a 15-minute conversation back in February and spoke to her again on August 24. She did not have a strong advocate among McCain's top advisers, and more than one cautioned him about the risks of picking someone with such limited experience. And as he had on Iraq, McCain listened to that advice, considered the politically safe choice, and then rejected it in favor of something bolder and riskier.

The early results have been promising, and McCain's team is confident that she will be a major asset over the next two months.

"You do not get to 80 percent approval by not being a good politician," said a senior McCain adviser. "I don't care how red your state is or how blue it is--if it's Alaska or California--you don't get to 80 percent without being good."

Palin will spend much of her time over the next eight weeks in small towns in battleground states. McCain advisers believe that the overwhelming media coverage over her first week has made her quite a draw and that average Americans will flock to someone who represents their sensibilities and their views.
She grew up with them.

Stephen F. Hayes, a senior writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD, is the author of Cheney: The Untold Story of America's Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President (HarperCollins).