ST. PAUL, Minn. - The biggest "prize" so far in the quest to destroy Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's vice-presidential candidacy is the "news" that her unmarried daughter is pregnant. I have little to say about that because I don't think the press should be saying much more about it.
But what is remarkable is how little that or other revelations matter to the GOP rank and file. Simply put: They love Sarah.
This is my sixth Republican National Convention, and I've never seen anything remotely like the excitement Palin has unleashed. Some compare it to the enthusiasm for Ronald Reagan in 1976 or 1980. Even among the cynics and nervous strategists, there's a kind of giddiness over John McCain's tactical daring in selecting the little-known Alaskan.
Readers of National Review Online - a reliable bellwether of conservative sentiment - flooded the site with e-mails over Labor Day weekend. The messages ran roughly 20-1 in almost orgiastic excitement about the pick. On Friday, one reader expressed Christmas-morning delight over the gift of Palin, proclaiming that McCain had just "given us our Red Ryder BB gun."
Hundreds of NRO readers announced that they were finally donating to McCain after months of holding out. Many had hard feelings toward the senator, who too often defined "maverick" as a willingness, even an eagerness, to annoy conservatives. They weren't kidding: Between the Palin announcement Friday and Monday morning, the McCain camp raised $10 million. This enthusiasm reflects how, although the party wants Barack Obama to lose, it is just now getting excited about a McCain win.
The naysayers argue Palin undermines McCain's core message so far: "experience" and the necessary foreign policy expertise for a dangerous world. They say choosing her was a gimmick that runs counter to McCain's mantra about country before politics, particularly given his age and health record.
If Palin fumbles badly in the next few weeks, the critics will surely be proved right. And one doesn't have to be obsessive about liberal media bias to recognize the media's desire to Quayle-ize her.
But what if she doesn't fumble? What if McCain's gut was right?
Then, picking Palin just might go down as one of the most brilliant political plays in American history.
The experience theme was not going to carry McCain to victory. This is a change election. Hillary Clinton, after all, ran on experience and got beat by Obama, a former community organizer and state senator. McCain weakened Obama with the "not ready to lead" line, but to win he needed to promise change - i.e. "reform" - too.
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