Well, looks like she hit it out of the park. Or perhaps more appropriately, it looks like Sarah Palin scored a hat trick. In a high-stakes speech at the Xcel Energy Center, she easily won over the crowd of Republican convention-goers with her feisty, folksy delivery and pointedly partisan rhetoric. But more importantly, she appears to have hit all the right notes for the folks watching back home on TV. Both campaigns have identified financially anxious white working voters ?particularly women — as crucial to victory in November. In both her words and her tone, Palin’s speech was clearly aimed straight at them.
The first-term Alaska governor spent a big chunk of her time onstage simply introducing herself to a country in which she was virtually unknown a week ago. Describing herself as “just your average hockey mom” when she first joined the PTA, she dismissed the Washington and media elites who’ve questioned her background and qualifications. If there was one thing she set out to make clear, it was that no one should mistake for one of those elitists in the other camp.
“A writer observed: "We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity, and dignity." I know just the kind of people that writer had in mind when he praised Harry Truman. I grew up with those people. They are the ones who do some of the hardest work in America ... who grow our food, run our factories, and fight our wars,” Palin said to a huge roar from the crowd. “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.
Palin also worked to establish her reformer’s credentials, detailing how she fought the oil companies when she moved into the Governor’s office in Anchorage. And she took on Barack Obama with vigor, wrapping many of her most pointed jabs in a sarcastic humor. Brushing away criticisms that her past as a small town mayor left her without the experience needed to sit in the vice-president’s office, she threw the issue back at Obama and drew a sharp comparison with the Illinois Senator's start as a community organizer in Chicago.
“I guess being a small-town mayor is sort of like a "community organizer," except that you have actual responsibilities,” she said.
Palin played up her expertise on energy issues and her strong support for expanding domestic drilling as well. No surprise there: the issue has been a big winner for John McCain, helping him bounce back in the polls in August. And even now, as a compromise is taking shape in the Senate that would allow for more drilling, which Republicans strongly back, and greater investment in alternative energy, a favored target for the Democrats, the McCain campaign is trying to sharpen the contrast between its approach and that of rival Obama.
But curiously, in a speech clearly targeted at wooing those anxious working families, Palin had little to say about the broader economy or many of the problems which concern them. Taxes, of course, featured prominently, as she ran through a litany of the taxes she claimed would go up if Obama were elected, asking how higher taxes would help the small farmer trying to hang on to his land in Minnesota or the worker trying to keep his factory job in Michigan. But worries about the loss of jobs, the slowing economy, rising health care costs or spiking foreclosures were never mentioned.
Palin’s personal charm and background will certainly appeal to many of these voters. Over the next two months, we'll find out whether economic policies focused primarily on boosting drilling and lowering taxes will be enough to get them to pull the lever for McCain.