As to the first question, Palin will argue that in fact Obama has no more experience than she does, and that Palin has the advantage of sharing McCain’s views (and thus being right) on the surge, Russian ambitions, and meetings with state terror sponsors. The VP debate against Biden may be dicey, but the McCain camp knows full well that a vice-presidential debate isn’t going to make or break their candidate. In short, McCain is hoping that Palin is good enough on this score for a number two pick against a Democratic ticket headed by a man with virtually the same meager national security credentials.

As to the second, Palin has much to offer McCain. On a non-political level few can doubt her Q-factor. (She will be the first former beauty queen to run on a national ticket.) The daughter of a teacher and mother of five, she has an ebullient personality and an excellent TV presence. The Right will be entranced: a pro-life hunter with a passion for domestic energy development? And in the battle for “change” she has the record of reform and the identity of a complete Washington outsider. Finally, as a lifelong NRA member, an outdoorswoman, and a western governor she may provide extra help in mountain and western states such as Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico which are certain to be in play.

On the policy front, Palin can make the case that the Democratic program of higher taxes, more spending, and a government takeover of health care is a proven loser. She will argue that she can bring practical experience from as far outside the Beltway as one can get. And, of course, the presence of a woman on the ticket creates instantaneous excitement and puts into play Clinton voters looking for a new champion.

The pick also tells us something about McCain: he thinks he can win. He was not willing to rock the boat with his conservative base. He can use Palin on offense to make a run at women voters and on defense to blunt the populist attacks from the Democrats. And it shows he understands the need to generate enthusiasm and “newness” in his own campaign. In sum, Palin may prove to be the most exciting pick available to McCain.

The players on both tickets now are set, the battle lines are drawn, and in the weeks ahead Palin will give us a hint as to whether a Washington outsider, conservative reformer, and executive can boost McCain’s prospects. For now, Republicans are breathing a sigh of relief and getting ready for the fight of their lives.