This is the 20th national convention that I've attended in one way, shape, or form over the years, and this was the quietest Monday I can remember. The Republicans convened at 3 p.m., established the presence of a quorum, received the reports of the credentials, rules, and platform committees and approved them. Then just before 5 p.m., we had a brief speech by Laura Bush, followed by videos of four of the five Gulf Coast governors (all Republicans, she noted: the one partisan note of her appearance). Bobby Jindal evidently didn't have time to cut a video; I would have liked to see excerpts of Jindal's brilliant press conference. Afterwards, Laura Bush returned with Cindy McCain and both gave out E-mail addresses through which people could make contributions. I understand that CNN barely covered the Bush-McCain appearance, while Fox News presented all or most of the speeches.
Most of the talk was about the announcement that Sarah Palin's 17-year-old daughter is pregnant. Palin's statement was succinct and evidently John McCain knew this before he made his decision. The story evidently came out to rebut suggestions on some blogs that Palin's baby born last April was actually her daughter's.
All this doesn't seem to have troubled Republican delegates and Palin's fans. On the contrary, they keep telling stories about how much the choice of Palin has invigorated the grassroots. Congressman Bob Inglis from Greenville, South Carolina, told me that it excited some of the conservatives in his district. Mac Musselwhite of Charlotte, North Carolina said the Palin choice was "going to go over really well."
Larry DeNardis of New Haven, Connecticut, the man who put Joe Lieberman where he is today (he beat Lieberman in 1980 in a race for the House, and two years later Lieberman was elected to the first of two four-year terms as state attorney general, which allowed him to run for the U.S. Senate in 1988 without losing his office), said that he was "surprised. McCain is entirely capable of surprising us. We're all learning more about her." Barbara Franklin, U.S. Commerce Secretary, standing next to him was more positive. She said Palin's speech Friday "knocked our socks off. It just scrambles the deck. It puts gender in the deck."
Brian Burdette of Greene County, Georgia (a small rural county well southeast of Atlanta, not heavily Republican) said Independents and Democrats were calling in to Republican headquarters. A nurse at a small hospital who is a Republican told him that other nurses came up "with tears coming down their eyes." Debbie McCord, of Columbia County, Georgia (the mostly white and upscale suburbs of Augusta), said that the decision "electrified the Republican base." Tom Liddy of Arizona, the son of G. Gordon Liddy, said that he was whipping the convention's rules committee, filled with veterans of Republican National Conventions, "There were tears coming down their eyes," he said. "One woman from Wyoming said, 'We didn't know John McCain cared about us.'"
Republican National Committeeman Chuck Yob of Michigan said that the choice was "top drawer," and said that Palin was appearing Friday in Macomb County, Michigan--the partly working-class county northeast of Detroit where Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg told U.S. News last week that John McCain was leading Barack Obama by 7 points. Republican National Committeeman Bill Crocker of Texas said Palin "goes over wonderfully, magnificently. The state party switchboard lit up with volunteers and money. Saddleback and the platform and Palin have energized socially conservative women and they're working their hearts out." Connecticut Republican State Chairman Christopher Healy said his headquarters got 50 calls, mostly from women. He thinks it will help with high school-educated Catholic women. Colorado Republican State Chairman Dick Wadhams says that "Palin will drive up turnout in El Paso County [Colorado Springs] and ouglas County [exurban Denver]."
Vernon Robinson, who in two unsuccessful House races in North Carolina has billed himself as "the black Jesse Helms," said it "was a 60-yard pass and it was a completion." Staten Island lawyer Sean O'Sullivan said it would attract some disaffected Hillary Clinton voters. And if she is criticized for being mayor of a town of only 9,500 people, he said that was more votes than Joe Biden got in the Iowa Democratic caucus. Pamela McCollum of Austin, Texas, said Palin is a "tough lady. She's going to prove herself."
I didn't hear any negative comments about Palin. And of course some of these people may be spreading the campaign talking points.
Here are my own tentative thoughts on how Palin could help the Republican ticket:
-- Not at all if she commits major blunders; rather to the contrary.
-- With many women, who identify with her in some way and some of whom do not share her views on issues. They don't like to see her dissed. Democrats must be careful to be respectful, as Barack Obama and Joe Biden were in their first public reactions, and not scornful, as Obama press secretary was in his earlier first reaction. Strong emotions are at work here.
-- In small towns and rural areas. It's not generally recognized, but George W. Bush ran unusually well for a Republican in rural and small town areas (except in the Northeast), just as he ran unusually badly for a Republican in the inner suburbs in very large metropolitan areas. From state polling data, I conclude that John McCain has not been running nearly as well in rural and small town areas. That's one reason why Barack Obama has been competitive in North Dakota, Montana, and Alaska, and perhaps one reason why he's been competitive or close to it in Virginia and North Carolina. Palin embodies the values and lifestyle of many who live in rural and small town areas. She might help get McCain's percentages there up toward the Bush levels.
-- With happy conservatives. Palin seems to be a very happy person. With her energy and cheerfulness, she reminds me of some of the women who call in to Rush Limbaugh's program. As Arthur Brooks, now of the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and after January 1 the president of the American Enterprise Institute, where I am a resident fellow, explains in his book Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America--and How We Can Get More of It, conservatives tend to be happier than liberals, just as married people tend to be happier than singles and religious people tend to be happier than secular people. Mainstream media tends to portray conservatives as angry, but in fact they're less angry than liberals--as I think a comparison of conservative and liberal blogs will show. Certainly the liberal blogs are more profane.
A final random observation. I noted yesterday that the hall seems much larger than the Democrats' hall in Denver. Today, while the convention was in session, I noticed that there are no giant video screens showing close-ups of the speakers. Interesting: the first time I noticed those screens was at the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, held in a hall I remember as having a much larger floor but much lower ceiling. The only video screen is the huge one behind the speakers, which typically shows an unfurling flag.
By Michael Barone