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From running mate to Time’s runner-up

Completely ignoring Al Gore because he’d already won the world’s other top two prizes -- the Nobel and Oscar -- and pretty well rested on his warming climate laurels this year, Time magazine has chosen Alaska’s Republican Gov. Sarah Palin as a runner-up Person of the Year.

Along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Secretary of the Treasury Henry M. Paulson Jr.

Also director Zhang Yimou.

The immense individual honors were created by the aging weekly magazine many years ago to help sell copies in a normally very slow year-end period for news and sales.

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At one point in history, this issue actually made news and people talked about it, if there wasn’t much else going on.

But being in Time’s year-end edition can also be a dangerous distinction. Many of Time’s past Persons of the Year have died after receiving the honor -- for instance, Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. Also President Eisenhower.

Sarkozy was obviously chosen a runner-up because of his wife’s beauty and his ability to get French fries back on the menu in Congress.

Paulson was chosen for reasons that have something to do with the financial mess and still being unable to identify the mortgages of dubious value but being incapable of doing that in a very quiet, behind-the-scenes kind of way that didn’t cause complete market panic because no one really understands the numbers stuff anyway.

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Also in recognition of Paulson’s work, President-elect Barack Obama has decided to replace him with another numbers gnome.

Zhang’s runner-up award needs no explanation. His accomplishments pretty much speak for themselves. So we won’t.

Palin was picked because she almost single-handedly saved the Republican Party from total annihilation as its surprising vice presidential candidate.

Her selection by the old Arizona guy annoyed the nation’s news media because they weren’t ready and they think Washington is a qualifying experience for the White House now that Bill Clinton and the new guy have some.

So reporters wrote a lot about Palin’s children and a future son-in-law and her baby with Down syndrome, and they jumped all over her effort to help salvage the 2008 women’s clothing sales, as if that was a bad thing for the struggling economy.

Time calls hers “the most astonishing political debut in modern times” and says the 44-year-old mother of five -- who upset a corrupt GOP party establishment in a place many people don’t ever want to visit -- was “a one-woman rescue team for the Republican ticket.”

Which, you may have heard, lost anyway.

In fact, Palin’s Republican National Convention speech before a record TV audience electrified the party at a somnolent time of late summer.

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Time, like all print, online and broadcast media, knows the magnetic draw of Palin’s mere mention among fans and foes. Putting Sarah Palin’s name in a headline and adding Sarah Palin photographs draw thousands of people, even if they haven’t a clue about her politics. Sarah Palin is simply great for the media business. The more photos the better too.

“Saturday Night Live” had its best ratings in 14 years the night it had the real Sarah Palin on. By golly, she just has a presence.

Time says it’ll be interesting to see what happens to Palin’s political evolution now and whether she emerges with a viable conservative philosophy beyond a beguiling but fiscally responsible wink.

Although many prominent Republicans campaigned for Saxby Chambliss in the recent Georgia Senate runoff, it wasn’t until Palin spent a day there that Chambliss actually won easily over a Democrat endorsed by Obama and Gore.

At the same time as it announced its Person of the Year runners-up, Time also revealed its winner, the same guy Ebony already picked.

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andrew.malcolm@latimes.com

For more Top of the Ticket, go to latimes.com/ticket.

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