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      08-30-2008, 11:16 PM   #20

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McCain Swings For The Fences, Picking Alaska's Palin For Veep

No one knows how this presidential election will turn out. There are still thousands of miles of road to travel, dozens of speeches to be made, scores of hands to be shaken, millions of voters to be swayed.

But if John McCain should go on to win on Nov. 4, pundits might well mark Aug. 29 as the turning point. For that's the day he shocked the world by picking Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

With the 44-year-old Palin, the 72-year-old McCain showed he can think outside the Washington box, selecting one of America's least-known but most appealing young political talents.

It was a home run, an inspired choice for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the need to drill for more oil to ensure America's future prosperity and security.

As a McCain aide said: "A maverick with a record of reform picks a maverick with a record of reform. With this pick John McCain is putting Washington on notice. There's a shake-up coming."

Palin's state, Alaska, holds a special place in modern America. With its immense wilderness and trove of natural resources, including 30 billion barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, Alaska is America's last true economic frontier.

As such, McCain's selection of Palin, Alaska's youngest governor ever, is a nod to America's youthful optimism and its vigorous frontier past.

State Of Energy

As part of our ongoing energy coverage, IBD has interviewed Palin a number of times, most recently in July. We were struck by how clearly she understood her state's importance to solving America's energy crisis.

"Alaskans are frustrated because there is opposition in Congress to developing our vast amount of natural resources," she told IBD. "We want to contribute more to the rest of the United States. We want to help secure the United States and help us get off this reliance on foreign sources of energy."

Music to our ears.

It's not surprising she knows as much as she does about oil and gas. She served in 2003 and 2004 as chairwoman of Alaska's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Her husband, Todd, who's part Eskimo, has worked 18 years for BP.

What intrigued us was her effort to build a natural gas pipeline across Alaska against great odds. And her unabashed support for more oil drilling led us in July to call Palin, with her 84% approval rating in Alaska, a "rising star" in U.S. politics.

Little did we know.

Our lasting impression: She is serious, incredibly smart, very personable and highly competent. A great vice presidential pick.

What's truly compelling is her life story. Growing up in Wasilla, a small town outside of Anchorage, she played on a state championship girls' basketball team and was crowned runner-up in the Miss Alaska pageant.

She started her career on the Wasilla City Council in 1992 as an opponent of tax hikes. She moved on to become mayor for six years, served as one of the state's top oil officials for two years and, in 2006, won the governor's job.
The first woman governor of a state known for its pioneer spirit and macho swagger, Palin took to the job with gusto after beating incumbent Frank Murkowski in a tough primary battle.

Murkowski had made her head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. It was supposed to be a great job for an up-and-coming political star, if she kept quiet and didn't make any waves.

Frontier Reform

She began almost immediately to expose ethical breaches in the powerful oil industry watchdog.

Later, as governor, she again stood up to Alaska's power structure over corruption.

As the Anchorage Daily News' Tom Kizzia wrote: "She took on the Republican Party chairman, Gov. Frank Murkowski's attorney general, Murkowski's daughter, Sen. Ted Stevens' son, the North Slope oil producers and finally Murkowski himself."

And remember the notorious "bridge to nowhere"? Palin killed the project.

The conservative Club for Growth called her a "genuine reformer." As governor, she has cut budgets, slashed waste, lowered taxes and gone after corruption in Alaska's government risking her own career.

If McCain needed a running mate who would shore up his ties to the GOP's conservative base and to working women, he did both by picking Palin.

For the GOP's bedrock conservatives, in particular, Palin pushes a lot of buttons and gives McCain credibility he might not have had with any other running mate.

She's a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, an ardent hunter and fisher. A mother of five, Palin called herself in 2002 as "pro-life as any candidate can be," and proved it by giving birth just last April to a Down syndrome baby. Her eldest son is in the Army, ready to deploy to Iraq.

Her husband works in Alaska's oil fields and belongs to the steelworkers' union. She knows what working families are like.

Fiscal conservatives likewise will be cheered. She has cut taxes, slashed budgets and created a reputation as one of America's most fiscally conservative governors.

Yet the instant buzz after McCain picked her was that she shouldn't be the nominee because she's been governor for just two years.

In fact, having served as a mayor and a governor, she has more executive experience than any candidate on either ticket. Her tenure in Alaska's top state office has been brief, but truly impressive.

Girl Power

To the media, it's a given that the Democrats who gave 18 million votes to Hillary Clinton during the primaries, the same as Obama were the party that would capture the vote of women across America.

Now that may not be the case.

The tough, successful yet feminine Palin will appeal to middle-class women who have eagerly awaited one of their own.

Soccer moms and suburban working women will identify with someone who's done what they've done: juggle family life with professional responsibilities.

Some have commented that Palin might not do so well against Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, a man with decades of experience in Washington and with considerable foreign policy expertise.

But Palin is a surprisingly effective public speaker, peppering her speech with well-practiced zingers. Biden is, well, known for windiness and making gaffes.

And Biden's foreign policy expertise is questionable. Remember his plan in 2005 to partition Iraq and withdraw the troops? That would have been a disaster. And on a host of other issues from taxes and spending to defense Biden is way to the left of his party's and country's center.

Mostly, it's on energy issues that Palin distinguishes herself from the opposition. She wants to drill for America's more than 130 billion barrels of oil. She understands as her opponents don't that drilling should be America's top priority right now. It's a matter of economic and national security.

Palin is a historic pick. She's the second woman to be on a major party ticket. If elected, she would be the first to serve.

Biden once said of Barack Obama, "That's a real storybook, man."

Well, Palin's a real storybook, too.