The Republican presidential campaign of John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, appears to have been energized coming out of last week's party convention. Two new polls show the Republican ticket with a narrow lead over Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden. As VOA's Bill Rodgers reports in this profile of the Republican ticket, Senator McCain and his running mate are running principally on the theme of change.

John McCain's presidential campaign seems to be enjoying a new burst of energy.  In accepting his party's nomination, McCain energized his Republican base and set out the main theme for his campaign. "We have to catch up to history, and we have to change the way we do business in Washington," McCain said.

Change and reform are now the mantra of the Republican ticket. But since incumbent President George Bush, also a Republican, is extremely unpopular, McCain's pledge might be a difficult sell.

"When a large majority of people do not approve of a job that the incumbent president is doing, the conditions are ripe for a change election," says John Sides, a political science professor at George Washington University. "So, McCain will say, 'I'm a change agent because I've done X, Y, and Z.' Obama and Biden will say, 'No he's not, he's really bound up with the incumbent administration that so many of you don't like'. So it becomes a question of guilt by association."  

Counting on Experience

But John McCain is also campaigning on his experience. Born in 1936, he is the son and grandson of Navy admirals. He became a Navy pilot, flying combat missions during the Vietnam War. Shot down over North Vietnam in 1967, he spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war, enduring brutal beatings. He came home a national hero.

First elected to Congress in 1982, McCain is now a four-term Senator, specializing in defense and foreign policy matters.

This background in military and foreign affairs is a quality he has emphasized repeatedly in his quest for the presidency.  "We face many dangerous threats in this dangerous world, but I'm not afraid of them," McCain said. "I'm prepared for them."

"It's a distinguished story but it's not George Washington, it's not Ulysses S. Grant, and it's not Dwight Eisenhower," says Stephen Hess of Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank. "So I don't think this is a resume that, in and of itself, would elevate a person to the presidency."

Vice Presidential Choice

Republicans say McCain's choice of Palin as his running mate will help lead the ticket to victory in November. A first-term Republican governor of Alaska and mother of five children, Palin describes herself as a reformist who has battled her own party.  

On the campaign trail, she has shown a flair for attacking the Democratic ticket, framing the November election this way: "Here's how I look at the choice that we face in this election," Palin said. "In politics there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers and there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change."

Yet her limited experience in national and foreign affairs could eventually be a liability. And traditionally, voters have not cast their ballots for president based on the vice presidential pick.  

"As we turn away from the newness of her as a national candidate, we will realize how little difference the vice presidency makes in electoral outcomes. That simply is American history," says Hess of Brookings.

Yet some opinion surveys show Palin has helped boost McCain's popularity, especially among white women. And they could be a decisive voting bloc come November.