Will McCain pick a chick?

The Telegraph is reporting the Dems are quaking at the prospect of McCain naming a female VP running mate tomorrow. As a political move it would have the one-two punch of being both smarmy and canny. The Republicans have never had a woman on the presidential ballot,  so McCain’s ticket would be given instant historic import. It would also cast him the definitive alpha male, something that might be a problem, say, if he were standing next to the younger, chiseled Mitt Romney.

Herewith the femme front-runners:

The safe/uninspiring choice: Kay Bailey Hutchison, the Republican senator from Texas. The 65-year-old Hutchison is pro-life and knows Washington sub-committees, though she has never held office. Her name keeps resurfacing in cyber-chatter but months ago she said she doesn’t want the job.

The favoured outsider: Meg Whitman, the McCain campaign’s national co-chair. The 52-year-old billionaire former eBay CEO would bring major business cred to the ticket. She’s also a globalization expert and ace fly fisherman. The fact she’s an internet/technology guru will come in handy with a candidate who’s famously internet illiterate. McCain has referred to her as one of his three wisest advisors. And Whitman has made no secret about having political ambitions. Plus, she’s already been given a primo speaking spot at the GOP convention. That she lacks exposure to foreign policy machinations is a decided liability when squaring off against Joe Biden. She’s also pro-choice, a stance that could alienate McCain’s base. It’s a big risk for McCain to bring on a pro-choice male, say, Tom Ridge or Joe Lieberman, as has been rumoured. But a pro-choice woman could be political suicide.

The dark horse outsider: Carly Fiorina, 53, former CEO of Hewlett Packard, one of McCain’s top economic advisors. Fiorina’s well-connected, presents well (Fox News has tapped her as a business commentator even though she’s sane) and she brings economic smarts. But she has already provoked a campaign flap about abortion, even though she’s is pro-life. And her high-profile ouster from HP could come back to bite her.

And the potential masterstroke: Sarah Palin, the 44-year-old governor of Alaska. She’s charismatic, popular (her approval rating is over 90) and a mother of five (including a newborn). She’s also a member of Feminists for Life so the pro-life McCain could score points endorsing female power while continuing to contain their reproductive rights. She’ll appeal to the GOP faithful (she’s pro-gun) but is known to stand up to oil companies. It’s high-risk/high-reward choice: the June-November pairing could give McCain’s campaign vitality and generational breadth. Or it could end up making him look like her out-of-it dad. But, then again, if John McCain brought aboard a working mother of five to replace Dick Cheney he’d go down as the most subversive presidential candidate in history.