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Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) may turn 72 today, but the old dog still has a few tricks up his sleeve. He shocked many pundits Friday by naming Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, introducing her to the public at a press conference in Dayton, Ohio.

Palin becomes only the second female vice-presidential candidate in U.S. history, following in the footsteps of former Democratic Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York. Palin is 44 years old.

McCain's bold move could prove a game-changer in several ways. The surprise selection could ignite a media firestorm and overshadow the well-received

acceptance speech

Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) delivered just last night. McCain also has worked to attract women dissatisfied with the loss of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., NY) in the Democratic primaries. Palin has a reputation as an outsider and a government reformer, qualities that could help differentiate McCain from President Bush.

In recent days, the media and many insiders had determined former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty would be McCain's running mate. Both had been constant surrogates for McCain in the media, and Romney had helped McCain with his struggling fundraising.

While Palin comes as a surpise, she's no stranger to Republicans. She has a strong conservative resume: she's a devout Christian and takes a stand against abortion. She is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association and a proponent of small government.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin

On a personal note, Palin married her high school sweetheart, Todd. She attended college at the University of Idaho and majored in journalism. She is the mother of five children. Her oldest son, Track, joined the army and will be deployed to Iraq in September. Her youngest son, Trig, was born with Down syndrome. She has three daughters: Bristol, Willow and Piper.

McCain has made an effort to appeal to women. He's had two female surrogates hitting the campaign trail: Carly Fiorina, former CEO of


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, and Meg Whitman, former CEO of


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. The decision to choose Palin should help bring more women on board the campaign. Certainly, Palin's gender proves more important than Sen. Joe Biden's (D., Del.) foreign policy experience.

McCain has appealed directly to supporters of Sen. Clinton. During the Democratic convention, he ran an ad titled "Passed Over" featuring her image. The ad asked why she wasn't on the Democratic ticket and suggested she failed to make the cut because of her criticisms of Obama's campaign.

McCain Chooses Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for VP

Did Obama make a mistake not adding Clinton to the ticket? As John Judis points out in an

article for the New Republic

, only two successful presidential candidates have survived tough primary battles and did so by naming their opponents to the ticket: John Kennedy in 1960 and Ronald Reagan in 1980.

The only possible downside for Palin would be experience. She served four years as a city council member and two terms as mayor in the city of Wasilla. She has been a governor for only one year. The Obama campaign responded to the announcement, ironically enough, by lashing out with a press release attacking Palin's experience. Bill Burton, a campaign spokesperson, said:

"Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency. Governor Palin shares John McCain's commitment to overturning Roe v. Wade, the agenda of Big Oil and continuing George Bush's failed economic policies -- that's not the change we need, it's just more of the same."

McCain's pick should change the conversation. Palin could prove enough of a change that might allow McCain to separate himself from the shadow and reputation of President Bush.

McCain and Palin plan to tour several states before arriving at the Republican Convention in Minneapolis. There has been some talk that the convention could be delayed depending on the direction and intensity of Tropical Storm Gustav, which is headed for Louisiana just three years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast.