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RealClearPolitics HorseRaceBlog

By Jay Cost

« Thoughts on the Second Night | HorseRaceBlog Home Page | Thoughts on Obama's Speech »

Palin a Calculated Risk for McCain

Hats off to the McCain campaign. It has managed to match the excellence of the Obama campaign in its veep rollout. That's no small feat.

Sarah Palin is an interesting pick. On paper, she has plusses and minuses. The credits should exceed the debits - but ultimately that will be up to Palin and how she performs. [The same can be said of Joe Biden, who still hasn't shown whether he will be good or bad.]

She has one big minus. She's inexperienced. That could hurt McCain's attack on Obama's inexperience, but I'm skeptical of that. What is more likely is that her inexperience leads her to make rookie mistakes. That's the question: can she perform under pressure?

She has three big plusses. First, she plays directly to McCain's message of reform. Second, she's a woman. Third, she's a mom. That's a big deal, too.

Putting aside the particulars of Sarah Palin, there are three things I like about this pick.

First, she's a risk. I think she's a calculated risk, but she's still a risk. I like that because I think those polls showing an even-steven race a week ago were a mirage. This race is not a flip of the coin. Obama is the favorite. McCain has to be bold and daring and take the election away from the Democrats. Picking Pawlenty would not have done that. Pawlenty is safe in a year when McCain needs to be bold.

Second, she was clearly selected in response to Biden. This was a big advantage McCain had going for him. He could use the Obama selection to inform his own choice. He clearly did that. No way Palin was the pick had Obama selected Hillary. But Obama passed Hillary over. That gave McCain the opening to pick Palin.

Third, this will minimize the media coverage of Obama's speech - and hopefully for the McCain campaign, cause it to recede into the public's hazy memory. This was the other advantage that McCain had going for him with the timing of the convention. He could use the pick to mitigate Obama's bounce. The best way to do that was with a dark horse - and the McCain campaign managed to pick a dark horse despite having the media pay relentless attention to the veepstakes. That's impressive - and a testimony to the fact that the new McCain operation should not be taken for granted. It's has strategic thinkers who seem to have a good plan that they have executed with discipline. If McCain manages to win this, Steve Schmidt is going down as a legend in GOP circles.

-Jay Cost