Just a few days ago, it would hardly have seemed possible that one of the speakers at the Republican convention in St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center could spark more curiousity and anticipation than the appearances made by Hillary and Bill Clinton gave before their Democratic brethren last week in Denver, with all their accompanying drama. But that, as they say, was then. And this is now. Following John McCain’s surprise nomination of Alaska governor Sarah Palin, her speech tonight may now qualify as the most heavily-awaited speech of the twin conventions.
That reflects the intense curiousity about the little known 44 year old mother of five who started out as a small town mayor before leaping to the Governor's office by taking on much more experienced rivals -- and the fact that she's become something of a Rorschach test reflecting the views of those looking on. Is she inexperienced and unqualified, as many Democrats claim, or is she an energetic reformer and oil industry expert who will help a McCain presidency bring change to Washington and develop the policies needed to resolve our energy woes?
With prime time viewers looking on, she'll have a big stage tonight on which to begin to answer those questions. There will be two things to watch for. What exactly she says, of course, which will provide strong clues as to how the McCain campaign plans to use her to bolster the ticket as the campaign heads into its final stages. Just what balance will she strike between emphasizing her background as a reformer, her solidly middle class life, or her deep immersion in oil industry issues?
But just as important will be how she says it. Will she come off as poised and at home in the spotlight, winning over voters and easing questions about her experience? Or will she stumble like Dan Quayle, who never quite got over the "deer-in-the-headlights" impression he left after George H.W. Bush made a similarly stunning decision and elevated the unknown Senator into the national spotlight as his veep pick?
To the first question, we already have something of an answer. In excerts from her prime time speech released by the campaign a little over an hour ago, she emphasizes her point of view as an outsider -- something the campaign hopes will resonate with millions of Americans fed up with Washington. "I’m not a member of the permanent political establishment," she was expected to say. "And I’ve learned quickly, these past few days, that if you’re not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone. But here’s a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I’m not going to Washington to seek their good opinion - I’m going to Washington to serve the people of this country."
As to the second question, we'll soon find out. Stay tuned.