Palin’s prime-time debut

Gov. Sarah Palin addresses the Republican National Convention. (Photo/Tom LeGro, Flickr)
Gov. Sarah Palin addresses the Republican National Convention. (Photo/Tom LeGro, Flickr)

To the dismay of Democrats nationwide, Sarah Palin delivered a great speech.

A political unknown five days ago, Palin accepted the Republican nomination for vice president by talking about her values and her reputation, and by defining the official image she wants to portray throughout the campaign.

The question is will it work?

Palin’s entry into national politics has been anything but graceful. A mayor from a small town of 8,400 in Alaska before being elected governor 21 months ago, Palin is unfamiliar to America, to the media and in some ways even to her running mate, John McCain. The result has been a level of nervousness among some Republicans that Palin is a risky bet — an unknown with too much baggage to help win the presidency.

Unveiled Friday, her relative obscurity led to weekend buzz around her biography, her qualifications and her readiness to serve as commander-in-chief. News surfaced of an ongoing investigation that she allegedly misused her power as governor to see her sister’s ex-husband fired; then came information that her unmarried 17-year-old daughter is pregnant.

Despite it all, Palin made a forceful and eloquent speech Wednesday night, painting her life as that of a small town mother turned vice presidential candidate.

“I am just your average hockey mom who signed up for the PTA,” Palin said while describing her American roots. “I grew up in small town America. I know people who grow our food, operate our factories and fight our wars. They love their country during good times and bad and they love America.”

It didn’t stop there. As if to indicate that she can play with “the good old boys” she so happily denounces, she turned a gifted acceptance speech into a political missile aimed directly at Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

A woman and self-proclaimed reformer, she implied that by voting for her, Americans can witness the “change” in Washington, D.C., that they desire without supporting Obama. That through her, they could fight the establishment they have grown tired of without leaving the Republican Party that is largely behind it.

“This is America and every woman can walk through every door of opportunity,” she said before thanking her parents — two schoolteachers — for their support.

Hillary Clinton must have been boiling.

The impact of Palin’s speech on the electorate has yet to be seen. Not everything about it was bulletproof.

Her attack on Obama’s work as a community organizer in impoverished Chicago neighborhoods — and many others just like it throughout the night — will not go unnoticed. Neither will her effort to downplay her relative lack of experience by going after Obama’s service to community while painting him as an elitist.

“I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities,” Palin said as she took off the gloves. “I might add that in small towns, we don’t quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren’t listening.”

At times heavy on Republican talking points but thin on policy, Palin’s speech will give Obama and Joe Biden ammunition Thursday to continue pounding McCain as “more of the same” and an affirmation of America’s current direction. If spun right, her speech could help Obama court middle-class voters by appealing as the best choice for a slowing economy and a disheartened electorate. But it won’t be easy.

Palin could end up being just what the Republicans, and McCain, needed coming out of the convention week.

The conservative base has never really fallen in love with McCain, and Palin spoke Wednesday night as if assuming the role of the party’s new shining star, someone the base can get behind, someone more like them.

Almost as if reinforcing that point, McCain himself graced the stage after Palin’s speech ended. He waved to delegates and hugged his new running mate. Then he spoke briefly before leaving.

“Don’t you think we made the right choice for the next vice president of the United States?” he said.

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