Palin's Star Rises

She's no Dan Quayle. Sarah Palin certainly knows how to deliver a speech, which she showed at her "debut" last Friday at Dayton ...
by | September 3, 2008

Palin She's no Dan Quayle. Sarah Palin certainly knows how to deliver a speech, which she showed at her "debut" last Friday at Dayton and demonstrated emphatically in St. Paul last night.

I'm still not sure how she'll do with those "who's the leader in Pakistan?" questions that will get lobbed at her first substantial media interview. And her record is certainly sketchy.

But think about the sort of pressure she's been (rightly) under this week, and how she came through. Those who think she's not ready for prime time need to bear her strong convention performance in mind and remember how much speech delivery and self-confidence matter in a TV-based campaign. This matters for Obama as well, obviously.

It's clear that Republicans have discovered a new talent. If this campaign doesn't tear her apart, she's young and will be an important force well beyond this year, even if the GOP loses. (Poor Mitt.) Even then, she may continue to be embraced as a martyr for the cause.

Obviously, party loyalists -- especially those who have been reluctant about embracing John McCain as their standard bearer -- were hugely relieved that he picked a pro-lifer. But Palin is more than that. She's embodies what the party has been looking for all year.

Palin knits together the myriad strands of the recent Republican coalition, combining a tough message on spending with her all-out evangelical stance into a complete package. None of the GOP's presidential hopefuls was able to do that. And she delivers red-meat cultural populism in a way that doesn't come off as harsh as it might out of some mouths.

Some of her shots at Obama were a little cheap -- although nothing as low as Rudy Giuliani's mockery of Obama's success that could have occurred "only in America, heh, heh." And Palin's paeans to small towns played well in the hall. But most Americans don't live in small towns. Those that do, mostly vote Republican already.

In general, she certainly played the traditional attack-dog role of the vice presidential pick with more gusto than most people expected. She seems to excite the GOP base in a way that McCain himself doesn't.

The McCain campaign may overestimate the value of this appeal. They have a new ad up comparing Palin's record to Obama's, as though that were the apt comparison. Making McCain less relevant is not a tack that's going to work.

And laying aside her continuing shoes-keep-dropping scandal problems, even if Palin becomes a big star for the GOP, as she now seems destined to be, it may not come in a way that's necessarily the most helpful thing for her ticket.

I keep making this point, but McCain is the odd nominee who keeps placating the base rather than reaching out to swing voters. It's September already.

Obama didn't get a huge bounce out of his convention, but he did get a bounce -- and, importantly, the undecideds have largely broken his way. Will any break back to the Republicans after this convention? That will be something fascinating to find out. But I'm confident Palin won't be a help in this way.

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