It's a question bothering at least as many Republicans as Democrats this morning. Why did John McCain pick an untested, first-term governor of Alaska for the second highest office in the land?
The answer is in the numbers. McCain's handlers had hoped they could sidestep the Republican Party's narrow-minded evangelical base by trying to attract independent voters and disaffected moderates in both parties. If successful, they thought, they could once and for all free the GOP from the grip of the mercurial, easily offended, mean-spirited, anti-choice forces of the evangelical right.
But they figured wrong. Dead wrong.
By last week polls showed that moderates were not moving their way. In fact many were either moving toward Obama or remaining on the sidelines waiting for lightening to strike.
Obama's selection of elder statesman, Joe Biden, as his running mate moved more of those undecided voters into the Obama camp.
That left McCain with his three short-listers; Romney, Louisiana Gov. Jindal and Lieberman.
By last week it was clear that Romney would not do. Sure he was strong on Republican economic issues, anti-choice, tax cuts and cutting the size of government. But he was a Mormon, and (though it's ever-so politically incorrect to say it out loud) almost no one likes Mormons, except of course other Mormons. And that's never more true than among the GOP's mainstream Christian and Christian evangelical base, who tend to consider Mormons in the same "going to Hell" category as Scientologists. So choosing Romney would not do.
Jindal's problem was he was simply the wrong color. He wasn't white, but then again, he wasn't an African-American either. He was "something else." Conservative voters don't cotton much to "furiners" of any stripe, even if they were born here. It wasn't so much color, because they don't like the French either, and few in the world can out-Caucasian the French, except maybe the Germans.
So choosing Jindal would not garner McCain any brownie points (pun intended) from black voters, and certainly very few from the Republican base. So Jindal was out.
Joe Lieberman was a horse of an entirely different color. Lieberman and McCain had done a man-bonding thing during the months they worked together on campaign finance reforms. The two had one thing in common -- but it was a big thing to them; few in their own parties liked or trusted either of them. So, like two high school nerd outcasts, they formed their own club in which they were the only members.
But GOP higher ups and lower downs were unanimous -- if McCain chose Lieberman as his running mate the floor of the GOP convention would look less like Woodstock and more like Chicago 1968. So lonesome Joe was lonesome, once again.
With just a week to go McCain had not found a running mate capable of attracting the moderates and independents he required to displace the GOP's narrow, almost Talibanish, Christian evangelicals.
The self-described "maverick"of his party was in a real pickle. And when John McCain finds himself in a pickle, he shoots from hip. McCain and his closest handlers determined that, since there was virtually no chance he could win enough moderates back to the party to swing the deal, he had to go put out fresh bait for the GOP's good old reliable evangelical sheep.
But to do that he had to find the right shepherd for them to follow. He also hoped to capitalize on disaffection within Democratic ranks over what some liberal women voters saw as Hillary's mistreatment during the primaries.
Those two points, when triangulated, led straight to Sarah Palin, an evangelical Christian who wants to outlaw all abortions, has five kids of her own, a manly-man husband who shoots large animals and burns gasoline in pursuit of snowmobile glory and on top of all that she was a 40-something woman -- the Hillary voter's demographic.
Those were pretty much all her qualifications, but they were enough for John McCain.