Sarah Palin: The Iditarod Meets the Potomac?

01/18/2009 07:05 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

By not picking Hillary Clinton to join him on the ticket, Barack Obama made it easier for John McCain to choose a woman. The only question was whether the Arizona senator had the guts to go against the pro-life wishes of his party's devout Christian base. He didn't, but his decision could possibly pay off despite her evident lack of experience.

After all, an applause line in Obama's acceptance speech Thursday night was that change "doesn't come from Washington, change comes to Washington."

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Sarah Palin. You can't get much farther away than Anchorage.

Beyond McCain's gambit to join the "change" game, remember that not all of Hillary's female backers are left-leaning. Palin gives the conservative part of the sisterhood a place to park their support.

Also, keep in mind what she did in 2006, a year when the Democratic Party's voice nationally reasserted itself at the polls. By railing against corruption, she beat a sitting Republican governor, Frank Murkowski (who had been a longtime U.S. senator and whose own daughter is currently a senator), in the Republican primary.....and then beat a popular former Democratic governor in the general election. She's obviously no slouch on the stump.

Finally, it would be a mistake to assume that the veteran senator Joe Biden will automatically eat her for breakfast in their one vice-presidential debate.

The modern political dynamic suggests that a male candidate must tread carefully in debate against a female opponent. Obama himself exhibited the perfect blend of elegance and equality against Clinton.

Yet Biden's skills as a debater, that we've seen on display for years in Judiciary and Foreign Relations committee hearings, won't work in a setting against a fresh-faced woman: the one-upmanship, the disdain, the sarcasm. These techniques serve Joe well when he's, say, chewing up a Bush administration lackey (even Condi Rice).

Against a newcomer like Palin, however, it will take something different to avoid coming off as an overly aggressive ass.

For all of these reasons, Democrats might be in for a dogfight.

POSTSCRIPT: Palin needs to survive until Oct. 2nd, when the veep debate happens. If she stays alive through that (and the media bar will be low for her against Biden), she'll settle into her assigned task: ginning up the religious-right base of the Republican Party that never trusted McCain in the first place. Paradoxically, this actually frees him up to play more to the so-called maverick middle. Team Obama must stay diligent.