By PAULINE ARRILLAGA
AP National Writer
GILBERT, Ariz. (AP) - Four years ago, before a little-known governor from Alaska stepped onto the American political stage, Lisa Rigler was a steadfast John McCain supporter. She was a Republican and an Arizonan, so it was a given that she would back the state's senior senator in his bid to become president.
Then McCain introduced his running mate, promising that his pick would help him "shake up" Washington. Sarah Palin would, instead, shake up his campaign and the political landscape of the nation.
But was her selection the "game-changer" so many Americans believed it to be? Does that No. 2 spot on a presidential ticket make any real difference to voters in the long run?
It's that second question that Rigler and others are asking again, now that Mitt Romney, the likely Republican presidential nominee, has made his own big announcement, selecting Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his candidate for vice president.
"It always matters," said Rigler, recalling what happened in the post-Palin, pre-election interval, when she started hearing from friends and fellow Republicans in Arizona who planned to abandon the state's favorite son because of his "horrible" choice. Rigler herself went from intrigued to annoyed as she witnessed what she called McCain's "total snowball downhill."
In the end she stuck with McCain. But as a Romney supporter, Rigler had three words of advice for her man this go-around: "Choose really wisely."
On Saturday, Romney did choose _ and with the pick came the predictable speculation: Would Ryan help rally conservatives or perhaps turn off independents? Would he solidify Romney's economic message or fuel characterizations that those ideas are too radical? Might he potentially swing Wisconsin to the Republicans or re-energize the opposition there?
In short: Will he, in the end, change the election's outcome?
Four years after Palin, it might certainly feel to voters as though the choice of a ticket's No. 2 can be a make-or-break decision for the ticket's No. 1. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll found that 26 percent of voters think the vice presidential candidate "matters a lot," while 48 percent said it matters somewhat. An additional 25 percent said it didn't affect their vote at all.
But experts note that the pick actually doesn't do much, if anything, to change the final result.
"There's not a ton of research on this, but there's enough so that we can say fairly definitively: The choice of a running mate doesn't help or hurt the vote in November for a particular presidential candidate," said Jody Baumgartner, a political science professor at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., and author of the book "The American Vice Presidency Reconsidered." "There may have been a partial exception in 2008."
With Ryan, Baumgartner said, "there's going to be some excitement out of the conservative base, but that's probably offset by the moderate Democrats who are a little nervous about some of the proposals Ryan talks about."
The polling pros at Gallup tell us that from 1996 to 2004, non-incumbent presidential candidates have received a boost in the polls of anywhere from 3 percentage points to 9 points shortly after naming a running mate. It's what's considered the vice presidential bounce. But what goes up, usually comes back down.
In 2008, there was no such bounce for Barack Obama after he selected Delaware Sen. Joe Biden; McCain gained only slightly immediately following the Palin pick.
The same type of bump happens after the presidential conventions. But what really shapes an election are things such as debate performance, campaign gaffes or outside events, from terrorism worries and war to the economy.
"I think it's very hard for a vice presidential candidate to actually be the game-changer," said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. "It's the major candidates who can do that, and events have the ability."
Four years ago, Zelizer noted, there was a financial crisis unfolding that contributed significantly to McCain's loss. On Sept. 15, 2008, less than two months from the election, the investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for the biggest corporate bankruptcy in American history, sending a sputtering economy into a tailspin under Republican President George W. Bush, whom many already were eager to replace. Those events coincided with _ and likely contributed to _ Obama's rising poll numbers that fall.
"The likelihood was that (McCain) was going to lose anyway," said Zelizer, adding that Palin "went out on the field and played poorly. But that's not a game-changer. She just continued the trend in the game."
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