Sarah Palin delivered. An embattled vice presidential candidate, a novice on the national stage, the head of a family suffering its "ups and downs," the first-term Alaska governor rocked the GOP convention with a star-turning performance.
Wielding a stiletto and a smile, Palin belittled Democrat Barack Obama and praised her new boss, John McCain, jolting the crowd of GOP partisans.
"Don’t you think we made the right choice for the next vice president of the United States!" McCain said, hinting the controversy surrounding his pick. "And what a beautiful family."
Indeed, the family was on display for the TV cameras — five children, including a 17-year-old unmarried daughter who is pregnant. Their mother lacked the soaring oratory skills of Obama — a man she attacked as a tax-raising, terrorist-coddling, self-indulgent liberal. But the former TV sportscaster spoke in calm, TV-friendly tones reminiscent of Ronald Reagan. Like the former GOP president, Palin warmed the crowd with quips and jokes.
"What’s the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull," she said, pausing for a beat and a smirk. "Lipstick."
She left the crowd smiling.
"For too many times, we’ve brought knives to gun fights," said Chuck Gast, a delegate from Maryland,
When asked if Palin brought a gun to the fight, Gast said: "Yes, I think she brings a big gun, like a moose gun."
It was the crowning moment of a roller-coaster week in which the first woman ever on a Republican presidential ticket has faced questions about how closely the McCain campaign scrutinized her. She also has heard a wide range of inquiries about family issues, her policy positions and her record of public service.
"Our family," she said, "has the same ups and downs as any other."
One speech does not a campaign make. Kept at arm’s length from the media in the days leading up to the address, Palin now heads out on the campaign trail, where events are less rehearsed, crowds less friendly and the environment less controlled. Even as she spoke, airplanes in Alaska were unloading reporters and political operatives sent to pore through her personal and public life.
A big test comes at the Oct. 2 vice presidential debate with her Democratic counterpart, Joe Biden.
But tonight was hers.
Facing down her critics with smiling resolve, Palin took crowd-delighting swipes at Obama and what she called the Washington elite. "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," she said.
A new celebrity herself, Palin cast Obama as a little more than a fancy speaker with a compelling biography.
"The American presidency is not supposed to be a journey of ‘personal discovery.’ This world of threats and dangers is not just a community, and it doesn’t just need an organizer," Palin said, a clear reference to Obama’s time as a community organizer in Chicago.
The Obama campaign had less than a warm greeting, saying Palin’s speech was "written by George Bush’s speechwriter and sounds exactly like the same divisive, partisan attacks we’ve heard from George Bush for the last eight years." The speech was written by Matthew Scully, who met Palin for the first time last week.
Selected by McCain only last Friday, Palin addressed the convention amid questions about her qualifications and relative lack of experience.
The first-term governor had top billing at the convention on a night delegates also lined up for a noisy roll call of the states to deliver their presidential nomination to McCain.
Watching her speech were her husband Todd and their children, including daughter Bristol Palin, whom the Palins disclosed earlier in the week was five months pregnant. Bristol’s 18-year-old boyfriend and apparent fiance, Levi Johnston, was seated with them.
McCain shook up the presidential race by picking Palin, a little-known governor less than two years in office. Since then, a bright spotlight has been trained on the life and record of the Republican governor who has bucked the state’s political establishment.
Days after Palin made her debut on the national stage with McCain, the campaign announced her unmarried daughter’s pregnancy. Other disclosures followed, including that a private attorney is authorized to spend $95,000 of state money to defend her against accusations of abuse of power and that Palin sought pork-barrel projects for her city and state, contrary to her reformist image.
"Our family has the same ups and downs as any other … the same challenges and the same joys," she said.
Noting that the couple’s oldest son, Track, 19, was shipping out to Iraq in eight days with the Army infantry, Palin praised McCain as "a true profile in courage, and people like that are hard to come by."
"He’s a man who wore the uniform of this country for 22 years, and refused to break faith with those troops in Iraq who have now brought victory within sight. And as the mother of one of those troops, that is exactly the kind of man I want as commander in chief," she said.
Largely unknown outside her home state, Palin told the convention: "I had the privilege of living most of my life in a small town. I was just your average hockey mom, and signed up for the PTA because I wanted to make my kids’ public education better," she said, speaking of her home town of Wasilla, Alaska, with a population of about 6,500.
"When I ran for city council, I didn’t need focus groups and voter profiles because I knew those voters, and knew their families, too," she said.
Before becoming governor, Palin served as mayor of Wasilla, she recounted, adding: "And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves. I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities."
Palin delivered her speech in a firm, cheerful voice. It was her first chance to introduce and define herself to the American public and, after it was done, her family joined her on stage. She cuddled her 4-month-old son, Trig, and waved at the adoring crowd like the beauty pageant contestant she once was.