Republican presidential candidate John McCain stunned the US political scene Friday by announcing his choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. The selection left many analysts puzzled since she is a relatively unknown and inexperienced political figure with no foreign policy experience. But, as VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, she may be able to deliver one critically important segment of the vote for the Republican ticket - Evangelical Christians.
At first glance, many analysts viewed Senator McCain's selection of Governor Palin as a move to attract women voters, especially many of the Democratic women who supported Senator Hillary Clinton in the primaries and were left disappointed when she failed to win the nomination. While Sarah Palin will undoubtedly appeal for those votes, there is another group of voters who may be far more important for the McCain-Palin ticket.
Michael Lindsay, a Rice University professor, says Palin could bring out the evangelical Christian voters. "No Republican has captured the White House in modern history without strong support from the evangelical community," he says, "And, up until now, there has not been something that would mobilize them behind the McCain campaign. Governor Palin has been involved with all sorts of groups like Feminists For Life and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes that will give her credentials that will speak into the evangelical community."
In the Republican primaries, most evangelicals favored Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Many conservatives were also opposed to McCain because of positions he had taken in the senate on such issues as immigration and lowering taxes. But Lindsay says many conservative evangelicals will be drawn to him by his choice of Governor Palin, who opposes abortion and gay marriage, among other issues.
But her very conservative positions may alienate her from the more moderate and liberal women who supported Senator Clinton.
Lindsay says she is going to have to win over many women voters by emphasizing her own experience, working as a business woman, mayor and governor, while at the same time raising five children. "This is certainly going to confuse a number of voters who want to be supportive of women in leadership, but maybe do not agree with all of Governor Palin's positions." Lindsey adds, "We have got to learn a lot more about Governor Palin. She is, in many ways, an unknown figure to the American public and I imagine the Republicans will be trying to help us get to know her a lot better in the days and weeks ahead."
Senator McCain's choice of Governor Palin as his running mate came as a complete surprise to almost everyone who has been following his campaign. In the days leading up to the decision, several other prominent Republicans had been mentioned as potential candidates, chief among them Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Two women who have been working with Senator McCain had also been seen as possible choices: Former Ebay Chief Executive Officer and President Meg Whitman and former Hewlett Packard Chair and CEO Carly Fiorina.
Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama criticized Senator McCain's choice of a running mate, noting that Palin has no foreign policy experience, has been governor less than two years and before that was mayor of a town of less than nine thousand people.