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Sarah Shows She's Ready for Prime Time

On a historic night for Republicans, Sarah Palin accepted her party's vice-presidential nomination Wednesday, with a personal and partisan speech performed with great poise amid a media maelstrom over her qualifications for the office.

The Alaska governor, the first woman to run on a GOP national ticket, passed the first major test of her candidacy, after a week of being battered by negative news stories, as she effectively delivered a well-crafted address to introduce herself, her record and her family to the nation.

Following her 37-minute address, presidential nominee John McCain joined her and her family on the stage. "Don't you think we made the right choice for the next vice president of the United States?" McCain shouted, as adoring delegates roared in affirmation. "And what a beautiful family."

Despite Palin's skillful delivery, however, her speech seemed aimed more at the committed thousands in the convention hall than at the millions of independent and undecided voters watching her national political debut at home on TV. For a rookie politician seeking to burnish an image that had been marred in the week since McCain selected her, the speech also seemed surprising for its bitingly aggressive tone - despite the smile she flashed when she slashed Democratic nominee Barack Obama with a combination of humor, sarcasm and insult that portrayed him as a cultural elitist whose values and condescension are at odds with small town and rural America.

At one point she referred to controversial comments Obama made at a private fundraiser in California during the primary about blue collar voters in Pennsylvania, whom he said, "cling to guns and religion"" because they are "bitter" about the economy: "We prefer candidates who talk about us the same way in Scranton as they do in San Francisco," she said.

At another, she took aim at Obama's early career work as a community organizer in poor neighborhoods of Chicago; sneering at his job title, she compared it unfavorably to her own experience as mayor of her small hometown: "Since our opponents look down on that experience, let me explain what that job involves," she said. "I guess a small town mayor is kind of like a community organizer - except you have actual responsibilities."

By almost any measure, however, Palin's prime time appearance was both a personal and political triumph as she showed style, substance and grace under pressure following days of controversy that included disclosures of an investigation in Alaska of a possible abuse of her power as governor, evidence that she had lobbied hard as a mayor for federal "earmark" spending that McCain vigorously opposed and the announcement that her teenage daughter is pregnant.

As a political matter, she achieved three key goals:

Biography. Amid a raft of stories and hostile blogs about her daughter's pregnancy, she proudly introduced each of the members of her family, including her infant son Trig, born with Down syndrome; recounted her executive experience as a mayor and as a governor, and spoke about her personal and community values "honesty, sincerity and dignity." Portraying herself as "an average hockey mom," she got a big laugh when she explained "the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull: Lipstick." At another point, she spoke about working people in small town Alaska and said, "they're always proud of America," a clear slap at Michelle Obama, who said during her husband"s primary campaign that "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country."

Issues. Palin, whose fitness for the vice-presidency has been questioned because of her lack of experience with national issues, spoke comfortably about energy, promising to work with McCain to bring about "energy independence" for the nation through development of nuclear and alternative sources, plus expanded drilling for oil and natural gas. She set off chants of "drill, baby, drill," when she told the crowd, "Take it from a gal who knows the North Slope of Alaska we've got lots of both" oil and gas.

Toughness. Palin showed she can take a punch as she directly challenged the negative press attention she has received, saying that "some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for office" who is not "a member of the Washington elite:Here's a news flash: I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion, I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this great country." And she showed she is more than ready for the traditional vice-presidential role of attack dog, even if her introduction to the nation at times veered into belittling personal attacks on Obama, who has publicly declared his own disapproval of news stories about her family.

Among her red meat applause lines:

-"This is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law."
-"This is a man who can give an entire speech about the wars America is fighting and never use the word victory, except about his own campaign."
-"What does he actually want to accomplish after he is finished parting the waters and healing the planet?"
-"Terrorists still plan to inflict catastrophic harm on America and he's worried someone won't read them their rights."
-"The American presidency is not supposed to be a journey of personal discovery."

After two nights of the Republican convention, the substance and tone of the major speeches make it appear as if the McCain camp is still focusing on consolidating the party's base, rather than trying to expand its support among independents and undecideds. Most notable has been the virtual absence of substantive discussion about the economy, except for mandatory mentions of cutting taxes and government.

Last night two prominent Republican business leaders, Meg Whitman, formerly head of Ebay and Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, did express concern about the economic anxieties of many Americans, but their speeches were given outside of prime time. Those slots were reserved for three middle-aged white men, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani, all of whom ran against McCain in the primary and hit familiar partisan themes. Palin was the only woman to crack the prime time lineup.

Next up: John McCain's acceptance speech.

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