ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Republicans emerge from their national convention with a new star — and it isn't their presidential nominee.
It's vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Even with John McCain's speech Thursday evening, it was clear that he will share the spotlight through the fall with his charismatic No. 2 rather than watch her slip back into the shadows, as running mates normally do.
It's even possible that he may slip into her shadow.
Either way, McCain appeared confident sharing the starring role as he claimed the nomination Thursday.
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"I'm very proud to have introduced our next vice president to the country," he said to applause. "But I can't wait until I introduce her to Washington.�And let me offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second Washington crowd: Change is coming."
Palin's higher-than-normal profile could have a downside if the one-term Alaska governor strikes swing voters as too strident, as Democrats said Thursday, or too inexperienced, as they've said all week. It's too early to tell.
But the upside was clear immediately, as her strong performance Wednesday night is exciting the party's conservative base and giving Republican insiders hope for the first time that they'll be able get volunteers to knock on doors and battle street by street, a critical tool in a close election.
In the battleground state of Virginia, for example, Glenn Druckenbrod said he was heading to the local Republican headquarters Thursday to volunteer after watching Palin's speech.
"As a conservative, I've been frustrated since 1988 that we have been lacking an effective communicator," said Druckenbrod, a doctor from Fairfax Station, a suburb of Washington.
"We had George H.W. Bush, then Bob Dole, then George W. Bush. None were effective communicators. Now we've got John McCain. Like him or not, the guy doesn't light you up. Now the Republican Party has someone who can communicate."
That's no small thing for a party that's been suffering at the short end of an enthusiasm gap.
Although polls all summer have shown a close race between McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, insiders in both parties have observed that the Democrats, eager to end the Bush years, have more energy on their side. Republicans, particularly conservatives, have been lukewarm at best about McCain, whose reputation was earned by opposing his own party.
That could be critical this fall if the election is close and victory depends on what campaigns call the "ground game" of volunteers knocking on doors to turn out every possible friendly vote.
President Bush had that advantage in 2004; his get-out-the-vote engine squeezed out a narrow win in Ohio and locked up his re-election.
Now Palin could help turn up the heat again for the Republicans.
"Before the speech, some critics were saying maybe she should bow out, she does not have experience, that it would be a net negative," said Jim Butler, a convention delegate from Dayton, Ohio. "After the speech, it is all positive. Ohio is more energized. . . . Hopefully this will help win Ohio even more."
Palin instantly appealed to contributors. McCain's once lackluster fundraising jumped by $10 million in the days after he picked her. Now, as she faced a torrent of questions about her background, her convention speech galvanized conservatives even more.
"She was a loud alarm clock that woke up all political junkies that were asleep," added delegate Jim Bention of Monroe, N.C.
"She did extraordinarily well. A lot of people can give a good speech. Only occasionally is there someone who also connects with people in a very personal way. She connected. She has that X factor," said Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota and top party strategist.
"The Republican ground game had been lagging. Her appeal to the base guarantees that we'll have a ground game," Weber said.
Weber predicted she would be "as big a star" as McCain through the fall campaign, something that even conservative favorite Jack Kemp didn't achieve when he was Dole's running mate in 1996.
The Obama campaign saluted Palin's speech, but strongly suggested that she could turn off some voters.
"She gave a very strong speech, for the ticket and for herself," said Robert Gibbs, a senior adviser to the Obama campaign.
He added, however, that the "tone" of the attacks in her speech and others delivered at the convention might strike some voters as strident.
"The jury is still out how it played in a lot of suburban counties where the election will be decided," he said.
Indeed, as Palin roused the Republicans' conservative base, the energy had still not shown up in polls.
Gallup's daily tracking poll Thursday showed Obama leading 49 percent to 42 percent, still enjoying the bounce of support he received following the Democratic National Convention last week.
Gallup analysts cautioned, however, that their three-night survey included the two nights before Palin's speech, and that even the Wednesday night sampling started before she spoke.
The overall impact from Palin's speech, and McCain's, won't be known for several days.
(McClatchy convention interns Lindsey Lanzendorfer and Natasha Ludwig contributed to this article.)
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