An excited buzz seems to be swirling around the Republican National Convention even before it gets started Monday in St. Paul, Minn.
Sen. John McCain's surprise choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate sent shock waves through Republican and Democratic political circles. A University of Georgia political scientist says that it may be enough to spur the kind of excitement for Republicans that Democrats had with the fervor surrounding Barack Obama.
"I think she is a largely unknown quantity," said Charles Bullock, a UGA professor. "People will be tuning in (to the Republican convention) to say ‘Who is she?' and ‘What does she have to say?'"
Bullock believes women will be particularly drawn to watch the convention.
"She calls herself a ‘hockey mom.' In our part of the world, Little League moms of whatever strain, soccer or softball, may be able to identify with her having five children and a job," he said.
Paul Stanley, chairman of the Hall County Republican Party, agrees with Bullock's assessment of Palin. "For some people, it might give some more interest because people will want to tune in and see what she's got to say and listen to what other people have to say about her," Stanley said.
He called her background "intriguing."
In two short years, Palin moved from small-town mayor with a taste for mooseburgers to the governor's office, and now is making history as the first female running mate on a Republican presidential ticket. She has more experience catching fish than dealing with foreign policy or national affairs.
In turning to her, McCain picked an independent figure in his own mold, one who has taken on Alaska's powerful oil industry and, at age 44, is three years younger than Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and a generation younger than McCain, 72.
Palin's selection was a surprise, as McCain passed over many other better-known prospects, some of whom had been the subject of intense speculation for weeks or months.
"Holy cow!" said her father, Chuck Heath, who got word something was up while driving to his remote hunting camp.
Palin had been in the running mate field but as a distinct long shot. She brings a strong anti-abortion stance to the ticket and opposes gay marriage -- constitutionally banned in Alaska before her time -- but exercised a veto that essentially granted benefits to gay state employees and their partners.
"She stands up for what's right, and she doesn't let anyone tell her to sit down." McCain said in introducing her to an Ohio rally. "She's exactly who I need."
Georgia Republican Party chairwoman Sue Everhart, the first woman to head the state party, said Palin was the right choice.
"By selecting Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, Sen. John McCain reaffirmed his commitment to shaking up Washington and bringing about real reform," Everhart said. "Like John McCain, she has demonstrated an ability to work across the aisle and dedication to our conservative principles."
A former Georgia newspaper publisher who now heads a paper in the Alaskan capital of Juneau gives Palin high marks.
"She can make a decision and doesn't hesitate," said Robert O. Hale, publisher of the Juneau Empire. "But she is also seen around town without a security detail. She goes to school events with her kids and to the hockey rink or soccer field just like any mom."
Hale, who has reporters covering the state capitol daily, said the entire state was taken by surprise by Friday's announcement, which reached Alaska around 6:30 a.m. "Her staff didn't know," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.