Sarah Palin Delivers Smash Hit In St. Paul

This analysis was written by CBSNews.com senior political editor Vaughn Ververs.
Emerging from the St. Paul shadows for her star turn at the Republican National Convention, Sarah Palin didn't disappoint the thousands of delegates in the Xcel Center, who gave her a thunderous embrace after several rocky days in the national spotlight.

The question remains whether her performance was enough to win over the 60 percent of the nation who say they don't know enough about her to have an opinion. But, by almost any measure, her performance exceeded expectations.

Giving a multi-purpose address with ease and style, Palin delivered on the promise that John McCain's campaign made when they unveiled her as his running mate. One part introduction, one part resume-enhancer and one part attack on Barack Obama, Palin's speech did something that no Republican has been able to accomplish throughout this election - energize the party.

The Alaskan governor has managed to overshadow the real star of this convention, John McCain, although not always for the better. First impressions matter, and for the past several days, Americans haven't exactly seen the most positive view of the new face on the political scene. Family issues aside, a glance at Palin's record has exposed some gaps between rhetoric and action and questions about her readiness for high national office, and there had been precious little positive news to counter it.

Outside of, perhaps, the citizens of Alaska, she remained a real mystery to most Americans coming into Wednesday night. Her speech was, in part, an opportunity to begin to change all that; to give her the chance to re-introduce and define herself - not just by biography but also her personality.

She did just that inside the Xcel Center, describing her very normal family with not-so-abnormal problems (a direct reference to her special needs child but also certainly an indirect nod at the pregnancy of her 17-year-old daughter) and unveiling an all-American family that includes a dashing, snow-mobile champion husband.

Palin flashed her much-disparaged "experience" credentials by laying out a lengthy list of accomplishments and reforms in Alaska. Curiously, Palin continues to tout her opposition to the infamous "bridge to nowhere," even though, technically speaking, she supported it before she said "no thanks."

Experience will continue to be an issue she will have to deal with in the days and weeks ahead, whether it's in the form of media questions or in the vice presidential debate with Joe Biden. Her years of service are too short and too many suspicions remain about her grasp of a range of issues outside of energy and field-dressing a moose.

If there was a surprise in her speech, it was Palin's effectiveness in attacking Obama. Just before she appeared on stage, Rudy Giuliani delivered a true stem-winder heavy on criticism for the Democratic nominee. But while the former mayor too often came off as sneering or mean, Palin's attacks were delivered with a lighter touch, even if the substance was just as sharp.

"In politics," she said, "there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers. And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change."

Then there were the attacks on the relentless press coverage she has received. Acknowledging the punditry of recent days, Palin said, "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."

Earlier in the day, a senior McCain campaign official said that the original draft of the vice presidential speech had been written for a man, and was scrapped in part to tone it down. Palin's speech was tough enough to make anyone wonder how more masculine it could have been.

Palin began the process of reversing the whirlwind of negative attention she has been subjected to over the past five days. Interrupted over and over again by standing ovations and thunderous applause, Palin's speech must have soothed the nerves of skittish Republicans who were beginning to wonder what the campaign had done.

For a party less than totally energized by the candidacy of McCain, Palin has given the convention just the sort of spark it needed to compete with the Democratic affair last week in Denver. Social conservatives, especially, have remained lukewarm to a McCain candidacy, and the feeling that this election was slipping away from the party was hard to escape prior to her selection.

For the rest of the voters and interested Americans tuning in, Palin succeeded in giving the kind of speech that will be remembered for its dramatic circumstances - at the very least. Wednesday night, Sarah Palin lived up to all the accolades used to describe her by those who know her best back home, even some counted as adversaries - likable, smart and confident. The campaign could hardly have asked for more.

It was a test for Palin, this introduction to the national stage, one that was set up for her to pass - a well-prepared speech in front of a celebratory crowd guaranteed to respond to all the applause lines. Tougher challenges await, such as press conferences, hard-hitting interviews and that upcoming debate with her Democratic counterpart, Biden. But if this was the first exam, she easily aced it.
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