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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan September 3, 2008

SUMMARY: We compare the backgrounds of the Democratic and Republican tickets.

Experience has been a popular issue this campaign season. Now that we know who all the players are on the Democratic and Republican tickets, we can tally up their backgrounds.

As we have noted in examinations of the candidates during the primary season, history doesn't provide a very clear record on the relationship between specific types of experience and performance in office. For our purposes, we'll avoid judgments about the value or relevance of the experience in these candidates' backgrounds and simply lay them out.

We've provided extended details on the experience of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin because this is the first time we've explored her background in detail here at Click on each candidate's name and you will be taken to their respective story file.

SEN. JOE BIDEN , Democratic vice presidential nominee

Biden, 65, was elected to the U.S. Senate representing Delaware at the young age of 29. He was not old enough to hold the office on Election Day, but he turned 30 before it was time to take the oath of office. This means Biden has been a U.S. senator for close to 36 years.

Prior to his service in the Senate, Biden was a member of the New Castle County Council for two years, and he was an attorney in private practice for four years.

Professional/legal experience: Four years.

County government experience: Two years.

Federal legislative experience: 36 years.

GOV. SARAH PALIN , Republican vice presidential nominee

Palin, 44, was elected governor of Alaska in 2006 and will have served two years by the end of 2008.

Prior to that, Palin was the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, for six years, from 1996 to 2002. She was on the city council for four years before that.

Wasilla has a strong-mayor form of government. The mayor breaks ties on the city council and acts as the city administrator. When Palin took office in 1996, the pay was $68,000. In 2000, Wasilla had a population of 5,469, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. It is located near the city of Anchorage.

During her tenure as mayor, Palin focused on increasing funding for basic infrastructure.

During her bid for re-election in 1999, the Anchorage Daily News reported that Palin "counts among her successes the recently opened Fred Meyer store, the passage of a $5.5 million road and sewer bond, and the near halving of property taxes from 2 mills to 1.2 mills, the equivalent of an $80-a-year drop in taxes on a $100,000 home." Palin also cut the budget of the city's museum, and all three of the museum's employees quit in protest.

Terms limits prevented her from running for mayor again in 2002. Instead, she ran for Alaska lieutenant governor and lost. In 2003, Gov. Frank Murkowski appointed her to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, where she served about a year before leaving the commission and blowing the whistle on fellow Republicans for conflicts of interest and conducting campaign work on public time.

In 2006, she ran for governor, defeating the incumbent Murkowski in a primary and then winning the general. She took office on Dec. 4, 2006, and will have held office for two years a month after Election Day.

When she was in her 20s, Palin spent about two years as a TV sports reporter from 1987 to 1989. She has also been part-time small business owner with her husband while she held office in Wasilla, according to the Almanac of American Politics. The Palins had a commercial fishing operation and a snow machine, watercraft, and all-terrain vehicle business.

TV reporter: Two years.

Small business owner: Nine years, includes part-time work.

Municipal legislative experience: Four years.

Municipal executive experience: Six years.

State commission experience: One year.

State executive experience: Two years.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA , Democratic presidential nominee

Obama, 47, has been a U.S. Senator for Illinois for the past four years. We examined his Senate record in detail during the primary .

Prior to that, he was a state senator for eight years, from 1996 to 2004.

He also was a civil rights attorney for four years full time, and he practiced law part time during the eight years he was in the state legislature.

Obama also taught law school part-time and wrote a couple of best-selling memoirs. Right after college, Obama spent three years working as a community organizer, a part of his history that is often highlighted on the campaign trail. We looked in detail at his 20 years of public service in our story "Obama's 20 years of experience" .

Community organizer: Three years.

Professional/legal experience: Four years full-time and eight years part-time.

Teaching experience: 11 years part-time.

State legislative experience: Eight years.

Federal legislative experience: Four years.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN , Republican presidential nominee

McCain, 72, has been a U.S. senator from Arizona since 1986, for a total of 22 years. Prior to that, he served in the U.S. Congress for four years, from 1982 to 1986.

He also served for 22 years in the U.S. Navy. Included in that time are the five and a half years he spent in a prisoner of war camp; the four years he served as the U.S. Navy Liaison to the Senate; and the 13 months he spent as the executive for the Replacement Air Group 174 in Jacksonville. We examined that executive experience in our story, " When McCain was in charge ."

Federal legislative experience: 26 years.

Military experience: 22 years.


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