Remember the Democratic National Convention? The Clintons and the Obamas, Invesco Field, the fireworks?
No, I thought not. It’s so last month. So B.S.P. — Before Sarah Palin. Before Hurricane Gustav and his pals. Before the GOP rediscovered how satisfying it is to bash the news media, liberals and East Coast elites.
And that’s a problem for the Democrats.
Last week’s Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., has re-energized the party and John McCain’s presidential campaign. It wasn’t just the convention’s late timing or its retro, culture-war theme that reinvigorated Republican hopes. It was the power of Palin.
McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate electrified social conservatives. Many told me they’d originally backed former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee or former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. They’d been lukewarm toward McCain, supporting him mostly out of a sense of duty. Then, he chose Palin.
"Smartest thing McCain ever did!" said Steve Millspaugh, chairman of the Custer County, Okla., Republican Party. His wife, Rose, agreed. She — like Palin — is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association.
While McCain may have hoped to win women who voted for Hillary Clinton, that seems less likely than that Palin will attract conservative Democratic men — like the retired Marine who called Millspaugh to talk about McCain.
Back in Denver, Democrats happily tied McCain to President Bush, warning McCain would continue the Bush policies Americans hate. Only a week later, though, Palin, who is known as a reformer, made McCain’s promises of reform more salient.
Plus, the convention worked to induce a form of mass amnesia about who has occupied the Oval Office for the last eight years. Mother Nature helped. After Gustav forced Bush to stay in Washington and speak by satellite, he was hardly mentioned again. Vice President Cheney, also scheduled to speak, found pressing business in Ajerbaijan.
Curiously, the Republicans, after complaining that Obama is a celebrity, created a cult of personality around Palin, 44, a moose-hunting hockey mom with five children. Her hockey mom joke: What’s the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.
In her national debut, Palin delivered her speech lines well, managing to be tough but not strident, sarcastic but not shrill. She set the tone for the fall campaign:
"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," she said.
GOP speakers contended that questions about Palin’s qualifications were out of line, that her 20 months as governor was more executive experience than Sen. Barack Obama or his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden.
Nice try, but former Bush political guru Karl Rove on "Face the Nation" last month knocked Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia for his inexperience when Kaine was thought a frontrunner as Obama’s running mate.
Kaine, Rove said, has "been a governor for three years. He’s been able, but undistinguished. I don’t think people could really name a big, important thing that he’s done. He was mayor of the 105th-largest city in America. And, again, with all due respect to Richmond, Va.; it’s smaller than Chula Vista, Calif.; Aurora, Colo.; Mesa or Gilbert, Ariz.; North Las Vegas, or Henderson, Nev. It’s not a big town.
"If he were to pick Governor Kaine, it would be an intensely political choice, where he’s said, ‘You know what? I’m really not first and foremost concerned with, is this person capable of being president of the United States?’" Rove said.
Palin has less than two years’ experience as governor and was mayor of a town a fraction of the size of Richmond.
None of that sort of criticism worried her fans at the convention. Palin has been briefed on the issues, and they’re confident she can hold her own against Obama and Biden. Besides, they know where she stands on the issues that matter to them.
Whatever happens Nov. 4, Sarah Palin, a pit bull with lipstick, likely will be gnawing on Democrats — and delighting Republicans — for the next four years.
(Marsha Mercer is Washington bureau chief of Media General News Service. E-mail mmercer(at)mediageneral.com)