I have no doubt that Sarah Palin, the Governor of Alaska and John McCain's choice for Vice President, has been under-estimated many more times than she cares to mention. By all accounts she is a strong Governor and very much an archetypal conservative in both her values and her economic approach.
The normal sort of superficial analysis about her being a woman so she'll appeal to women will abound. By adding her to his ticket, John McCain has undoubtedly given some of those wavering Hillary voters a reason to back him.
The real issue with some of these voters, men as well as women, is that they still harbour a resentment that their candidate, who they consider to have been the stronger candidate, was denied by inherent sexism in the primary process (both in the media and the Democratic party itself.) As if to confirm their indignation, already the US TV networks are reporting that there will be concerns that, having had a Down's Syndrome child just four months ago, is it wise for Sarah Palin to devote so much of her time to such a high profile position? Would a similar question be asked of a male candidate? Of course not, it is raw sexism, as simple as that.
So there is a tactical element to McCain's choice and it is a tactic that will reap some rewards. In my piece on The Indy website on Wednesday, I described the 'pragmatic unity' that has descended on the Democrats in Denver this week. Palin could well provide a reason for that unity to remain qualified and incomplete. The reality is though that the Hillary supporters who find a reason to vote McCain because Palin is on his ticket were probably already leaning strongly in that direction already. We may not be talking about many actual votes.
That there is little upside is part of the reason why the Obama campaign is very happy with the choice of Sarah Palin for VP. The major reason for their glee is that it actually looks like a spectacular own goal by McCain: it emphasises one of his own weaknesses while diminishing one of Barack Obama's weaknesses.
Like it or not, and this is where ageism comes into the equation, the VP choice of John McCain who is 72 today (Happy Birthday John!) assumes great significance. Whatever her personal qualities, Palin will be judged through the prism of what type of President would she make? The undercurrent to this, to put it bluntly, is McCain is old, what would his replacement be like if the worst were to happen? There's just no getting away from this.
The likely conclusion is that Palin is someone with exceedingly limited experience on the national and international stage. In one fell swoop, one of Obama's supposed weaknesses is diminished. Conversely, his choice of Joe Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reduced an Obama negative- the way it should work.
That is why Obama's campaign is saying that experience is now off the table. If McCain is saying that Sarah Palin is capable of being President and ready for the job, then on what basis can the Republicans question Obama's experience? She is younger, less experienced, and has not demonstrated any particular perspective on foreign or security issues. Her experience simply does not even begin to compare with Senator Obama's who has been an active legislator, national voice and strategic thinker on these issues since he emerged on the national stage.
Nowhere will her lack of experience be more exposed than in the Vice Presidential debates against the formidable Joe Biden. She will perform better than expectations because Republicans will try manage expectations down just as Democrats try to massage them upwards. The fact that they will have to do that further emphasises the weakness of this choice. As long as Biden doesn't fall into the trap of condescending her, he should easily get the better of the debates.
There is a need for exceptional discipline amongst Democrats on this but as long as they stick to the issues then the focus will now shift to McCain and his running mate- no throwing the first punch in other words. There are already reports of an investigation into an 'abuse of power' by Palin's office in Alaska which is a diversion but could gather force. More fundamentally, Palin affords McCain few benefits but comes at a potentially high cost.
Post Script: The concerns about Obama's rally last night becoming a 'Sheffield Rally' moment have been comprehensively allayed. The event, which I was fortunately able to attend (thanks to Linda Randall who is 'Linda' in Obama's book, Dreams from my Father) was magnificent and not only because it was the first time that I have seen Stevie Wonder live. Across the political spectrum, the event at Mile High Stadium seems to have been regarded a success. After a slow start, the Democratic Convention has built to a powerful crescendo.
Post script 2: David Gergen, a Republican who advised Bill Clinton, has just described the Democrats as having come out of their Convention with a 'roar.' On Palin, he said that the first rule of selecting a Vice President is to do no harm. He left the question hanging as to whether the choice of Palin constitutes a negative for McCain so initial reaction to this selction is muted at very best.