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Palin: Pros and cons

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
The pick of Sarah Palin caught almost everyone by surprise. Most signs last night seemed to point to Pawlenty, but the McCain camp proved it can keep a secret REALLY well. 

This was a bold move in this historic election, and a play for those Clinton supporters. Palin is a social conservative, and her views on abortion won't play well with most Democratic women. But this election has been a case study in identity politics. We'll see if she peels away some women.

The potential to grab some of those women voters is perhaps the best asset Palin brings to a McCain ticket. She also reinforces McCain's maverick image. She bucked her own party, launching an ethics investigation into the state party chairman with regard to his dealings with oil companies in the state. And being from Alaska, she's the ultimate outsider. She also reinforces McCain's drilling message -- though she's for drilling in ANWR; McCain is not. She also represents the next generation of Republican leaders -- she's a fresh face.

But there are some potential pitfalls as well. Palin is currently under legislative investigation herself, accused of firing the state's public safety commissioner for not firing her former brother-in-law.

"A legislative panel has launched a $100,000 investigation to determine if Palin dismissed Alaska's public safety commissioner because he would not fire the trooper, Mike Wooten," the AP wrote earlier this month. "Wooten went through a messy divorce from Palin's sister. Palin has denied the commissioner's dismissal had anything to do with her former brother-in-law. And she denied orchestrating the dozens of telephone calls made by her husband and members of her administration to Wooten's bosses. Palin said she welcomes the investigation: 'Hold me accountable.'"

Although she's not linked to them, Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young are facing legal/ethical troubles. In fact, Stevens' trial will start in late September, so the Alaska Republican Party is a mess. And Palin's trooper trouble could play into that.

It will be interesting to see which story line catches on: "Palin, the reformer/maverick", or "Palin, under investigation?"

Ironically, Republicans have hit Obama on not being ready to be president, not ready to be commander in chief, because of his limited national experience. But Palin has only been governor of Alaska for less than two years and will surely face questions of whether she would be ready to step in as president. Of course, Republicans will point out that the difference is McCain and his experience are at the TOP of the ticket.

Additionally, it's not clear she would give any geographical advantage. Alaska has been solidly red -- it's only gone Democratic once (1964) since it became a state. Does she help in the West? It's not clear.

On the issues, she is anti-abortion rights and is a hunter and fisher. In fact, she's a card-carrying lifetime member of the National Rifle Association.

The 44-year-old, Idaho-born Palin is Alaska's first woman governor and the state's youngest governor as well. Palin, a graduate of the University of Idaho (majored in political science and journalism), was elected mayor of the town of Wasilla when she was 32. After she lost a bid to be lieutenant governor in 2002 -- by less than 2,000 votes, raising her statewide profile -- she became chairwoman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Before getting into politics, she helped run her husband's family commercial fishing business, according to the Almanac of American Politics. She also did work as a TV sports reporter.

She was described by the Anchorage Press as "a small-town, angel-faced mother of four, an avid hunter and a fisher with a killer smile who wears designer glasses and heels, and hair like modern sculpture, who's taking it to the boys ever so softly."

On the personal side, she played high school basketball and her team won the state championship in 1982. She was nicknamed "Sarah Barracuda." According to the Almanac, she was Miss Wasilla in 1984 and competed in the Miss Alaska contest. She eloped with her high school boyfriend.