ST. PAUL — Hillary Clinton, after a Democratic National Convention week of scrambling to be on-message for the Barack Obama campaign, veered off message to celebrate the selection of a woman as the Republican candidate for vice president.

“We should all be proud of Governor Sarah Palin’s historic nomination, and I congratulate her and Senator McCain,” declared Clinton. “While their policies would take America in the wrong direction, Governor Palin will add an important new voice to the debate.”

That’s a fair statement, although not one that will help the Obama campaign’s effort to suggest that the Democratic nominee for president is the better choice for women.

While Clinton includes the obligatory “wrong direction” verbage, it is not exactly a match for the “historic nomination” and “important new voice” praise for Palin.

What might Clinton have said?

Consider the statement from one of the New York senator’s most ardent backers when Clinton was fighting Obama for the Democratic nod, Wisconsin Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin:

A real test of a presidential candidate’s judgment is his choice of a running mate – the person who is next in line to become the Commander in Chief. As we face serious global challenges and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, John McCain has chosen someone with virtually no national security or foreign policy experience. This choice calls into question both Senator McCain’s judgment and a McCain administration’s ability to lead a nation in crisis.

To the extent that this choice represents an effort to court supporters of Hillary Clinton’s historic candidacy, McCain misjudges the reasons so many voters rallied around her candidacy. It was Senator Clinton’s experience, skill and commitment to change, especially in the areas of health care and energy policy, that drew such strong support. Sarah Palin’s opposition to Roe v. Wade and her support of big oil will not draw Democrats from the Obama-Biden ticket.

An equally pointed, through more detailed assessment, comes from National Organization for Women president Kim Gandy:

NOW PAC Chair Kim Gandy on the Selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s Vice Presidential Pick

Sen. John McCain’s choice of Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate is a cynical effort to appeal to disappointed Hillary Clinton voters and get them to vote, ultimately, against their own self-interest.

Gov. Palin may be the second woman vice-presidential candidate on a major party ticket, but she is not the right woman. Sadly, she is a woman who opposes women’s rights, just like John McCain.

The fact that Palin is a mother of five who has a 4-month-old baby, a woman who is juggling work and family responsibilities, will speak to many women. But will Palin speak FOR women? Based on her record and her stated positions, the answer is clearly No.

In a gubernatorial debate, Palin stated emphatically that her opposition to abortion was so great, so total, that even if her teenage daughter was impregnated by a rapist, she would “choose life” — meaning apparently that she would not permit her daughter to have an abortion.

Palin also had to withdraw her appointment of a top public safety commissioner who had been reprimanded for sexual harassment, although Palin had been warned about his background through letters by the sexual harassment complainant.

What McCain does not understand is that women supported Hillary Clinton not just because she was a woman, but because she was a champion on their issues. They will surely not find Sarah Palin to be an advocate for women.

Sen. Joe Biden is the VP candidate who appeals to women, with his authorship and championing of landmark domestic violence legislation, support for pay equity, and advocacy for women around the world.

Finally, as the chair of NOW’s Political Action Committee, I am frequently asked whether NOW supports women candidates just because they are women. This gives me an opportunity to once again answer that question with an emphatic ‘No.’ We recognize the importance of having women’s rights supporters at every level but, like Sarah Palin, not every woman supports women’s rights.