But the reform message would have sounded implausible with almost any other VP pick, save perhaps Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal or Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Moreover, although the GOP base generally agrees with McCain's fiscal conservatism, it doesn't get excited by his reformer shtick. Palin reinforces the reform theme but, at the same time, reassures the base enough to give McCain maneuvering room to woo moderates and independents.
Not surprisingly, the bulk of attention has been on the fact that she is a woman (though few have noted that the party's enthusiasm for her runs counter to the caricature of conservatives as irredeemably sexist) and on the supposed effort to sway Clinton voters. That's been oversold. As much as anything, the Palin pick is a response to the Democrats' effort to cast themselves as change agents and friends of the middle class.
Last Wednesday in Denver, Obama's running mate, Joe Biden, gave his stemwinder about families huddled around their kitchen tables trying to make ends meet. The next day, McCain settled on Palin, who can actually claim to be part of such a family. Her husband is a member of the United Steelworkers. She got her start as a PTA activist and "hockey mom" who took on the corrupt Alaskan political machine. Unlike Obama, who played ball with the notorious Chicago machine, Palin took dead aim at the bosses of her own party.
The Obama campaign smugly - and foolishly - ridicules Palin's work as a small-town mayor. But who can better empathize with the plight of working families: Biden, a trial-lawyer-friendly senator since the Jurassic era, or a woman with five kids and a blue-collar spouse? Obama performed badly with working-class rural voters in the primaries. Joe "the Pride of Scranton" Biden is supposed to help on that front. Ridiculing small towns might not help the cause.
Meanwhile, many recently moribund Republicans here are hopeful that the party has successfully rebranded itself with Palin.
The enthusiasm may not last. But for now, she's the life of the party.