With the selection of Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin as the vice presidential nominees of Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, respectively, the two campaigns have defined their candidacies and established the tone for the next two months of the presidential race.
Electorally, Biden brings nothing to the table, but he should fill the gaps in the Democratic ticket, potentially stymieing questions of Obama's lack of experience and providing a grit that had been missing until now. He should also appeal to blue collar workers, with whom Obama has failed to connect so far, and will thus be essential in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
The danger, though, of a strong candidate like Biden is that he will illuminate Obama's inexperience. There is also the very real possibility that while speaking off the cuff Biden will let fly a faux pas that could sink the campaign.
The Palin pick is indicative of McCain's style, and speaks to how he judges his chances in the Nov. election. With regards to the former, picking a running mate that he hardly knew reflects how he makes decisions from his gut, which raises the issue of whether he'll be another "decider" president. At the same time it may also indicate the death of his maverick spirit, as McCain stifled his inclination to pick Sen. Joe Lieberman in order to please party elders and his base.
As far as McCain's interpretation of the electoral math, it would seem he felt an unknown variable was necessary to shake up an equation he didn't like. Had he been operating from a position of strength, one would have assumed a safe move embodied by someone like Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, rather than the Hail Mary pass it feels like he threw.
Palin reinforces the base with her social conservative credentials, while her reformist resume will echo McCain's work and appeal to independents. Unfortunately for McCain, she may not be able to deliver disillusioned Clinton supporters, unless they're so blinded by gender that they'll spite their own ideology.
A change election is suited for Palin, but her outsider status and relative inexperience should quell McCain's constant barrage of attacks on Obama for the same faults. It also weakens the Republican's traditional national security advantage, as it seems irrational for McCain to raise the issue while Palin's foreign policy experience revolves solely around her state's proximity to Canada and Russia.
These two nominees address the wide spectrum of thought regarding an office that was characterized by Franklin Roosevelt's first vice president, John Garner, as a "warm bucket of piss." McCain's choice of Palin demonstrates his low regard for the office, as it appears his idea of strengthening the ticket revolves around electability. Obama's pick seems to indicate that he wanted someone qualified to handle the recently expanded duties of the office. Because of these contrasting views, the merit of the two vice presidential candidates will be clear, and if voters take this aspect of the race seriously (for the most part they don't), then Biden should end up the Vice President and Palin back hunting moose on inauguration day.
Dave Lombardo is a senior political science major who can work the term "hail Mary" into political writing.