ST. PAUL – Alaska Governor Sarah Palin will on Wednesday night deliver the most anticipated address to a national party convention in decades.
And Mary Buestrin can’t wait.
“Our people are pumped,” says the Republican National Committeewoman from Wisconsin, the state that former White House political czar Karl Rove this week described to delegates as the most evenly divided along lines of red and blue in the country. “This is Sarah Palin’s introduction to America. If she gets it right, and I think she will, her speech will give Republicans the boost we need to win this election. This is such a big deal”
Buestin is right about Palin’s speech being a big deal.
In America’s rigidly choreographed politics, it is rare indeed that an individual leaps from obscurity to a primetime speaking slot at a national political party convention. And it is rarer still that the individual is put in a position to make or break a presidential campaign.
But that’s the position into which Palin, who most Americans had not heard of a week ago, and whose name is still being mispronounced by top McCain aides, has been thrust.
Never before has the address of a vice-presidential pick mattered so much – not merely to the party faithful who will enthusiastically nominate a governor who speaks their social-conservative language but to the broader contest that will begin Friday morning.
If Palin delivers a brilliant speech, the sort that electrifies the convention and draws praise even from cynical pundits, she will be the fresh face of a Republican party that, after eight years of George Bush, Dick Cheney and Tom DeLay, needs nothing so much as an image makeover.
If the governor stumbles, even if she simply gives an O.K. address to delegates who do their best to cheer her on, Palin will open up a long and potentially disqualifying discussion about the judgment of the man who selected her as his running-mate: presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain.
McCain’s selection of Palin has electrified grassroots Republicans, especially social conservatives who share the hard-line anti-abortion rights, anti-gay rights, anti-stem cell research, anti-immigration stances taken by their presumptive vice-presidential nominee. Party activists who were skeptical about McCain – a man whose deviations from Republican orthodoxy had inspired distrust and disenchantment among the faithful — are flooding party phone-banks with offers to volunteer for the campaign, giving money at unprecedented rates, showing up at rallies in numbers that rival those of events for Democratic nominees Barack Obama and Joe Biden, and generally breathing life into a Grand Old Party that until last week was looking old and bitter.