Politico profiles what David Paul Kuhn sees at the three most likely choices for John McCain’s running mate if he decides to add a woman to the ticket.  Kay Bailey Hutchison, Carly Fiorina, and Sarah Palin have all been mentioned in connection with the VP search, but all three present difficulties for McCain:

While the vice presidential slot may be John McCain’s best means of wooing those Hillary Rodham Clinton supporters who remain loath to embrace Barack Obama, the Republican party is a thin source of politically viable women, leaving McCain with few top-tier options.

The most-mentioned potential running mates — former Republican candidate and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — are all men. Yet no clear front-runner has emerged, and there are at least three women McCain might select to fill out the ticket. All three would mark a symbolic turn away from Vice President Dick Cheney, the ultimate D.C. old-boys-club insider.

One obvious choice is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She’s as near to Cheney on policy as she is far from him symbolically. Rice, however, has consistently denied interest. While such denials are par for the course for prospective veeps, if Rice is indeed out of the mix, that would leave McCain with three other likely female running mates to consider…

McCain won’t choose Rice, not least because Rice doesn’t want the job, but for two other reasons as well.  Rice has never run for an elective office, and a major-party presidential ticket isn’t a good place to start.  Unlike Barack Obama, Rice has eight years of national-security and foreign-policy experience, but she has no campaigning experience at all.  Besides, McCain won’t want to add to the impression that he’s running for a third Bush term.  No Bush administration officials need apply.

The same reasoning leaves Carly Fiorina out as well.  She has plenty of economic experience, but no elective office record.  Her time at Hewlett-Packard was controversial, and her compensation package has already come under attack by the Obama campaign.  With McCain already stepping on his tongue over his “unconscionable profits” remark, Fiorina would only add fuel to that fire.  She can work much more effectively as a close adviser and perhaps as a potential Cabinet member in a McCain administration.

Hutchison and Palin both have experience on the campaign trail and have proven themselves winners.  However, Hutchison isn’t a very palatable choice to social conservatives thanks to her moderate stances on abortion and stem cell research, and she doesn’t have any executive or foreign-policy experience.  She can deliver Texas, but as Jazz Shaw notes, if McCain’s worried about that, then the VP selection is pretty much academic.

That leaves Palin.  Alaska should be a slam-dunk for the GOP too, so she wouldn’t bring anything in terms of geography.  However, Palin has executive experience, and that comes as a reformer in the wild-and-porky Alaskan political realm.  Some will say that she has little foreign-policy experience, but as the only state that borders two foreign nations and is isolated from the rest of the nation by one of them, Palin has to work in that arena on some level in order to govern Alaska. She has sterling social-con credentials and a compelling life story.  The only drawback will be the limited time she has served in executive office — just under two years — but that still beats the Democratic presidential nominee, and unlike Obama, she has an actual track record of reform and taking on her own party to get it.

Palin may still be something of a long shot for the slot.  However, if McCain wants to make a big splash — and with Obama’s considerable PR talents, he will need one — Palin may make an excellent choice.

Update: Wise words from James Joyner:

Palin would be my initial favorite if forced to chose from among these three candidates. But, surely, there are better choices? Going the extra mile to look at women and minority candidates makes sense; picking a weak candidate simply to fill a quota, however, does not.

I think Palin does more than fill a quota, especially on right-to-life and reform issues.  However, I’d like to see the strongest candidate fill this slot more than worry about identity politics.  If that’s Palin, then great — but let it be on that basis.  We’ve seen what identity politics has done for the Democrats this year.

Besides, Palin is still a vast improvement over the Democratic VP choice in 2004, who had only three years experience in the Senate and no other political experience at all.  And John Edwards may yet be available for Obama this year.