Danger: The Barracuda Bites!
The convention kicked off in subdued and abbreviated fashion on Monday with an appeal for funds to help Gulf Coast victims of yet another natural disaster. Cindy McCain and First Lady Laura Bush appealed to the nation's consciousness on Labor Day, as the convention carried on only necessary business to enable this evening's balloon drop. Thankfully, the storm wasn't as potent as feared, and the convention resumed at full strength on Tuesday.
Tuesday's program was punctuated by speeches from Laura Bush, who introduced her husband and our current President. Speaking via satellite, the unpopular president made clear that McCain is his own man, effectively handing off the Republican baton to his former rival. His father, former President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara sat in the crowd and were acknowledged, but the imprint of the Bush dynasty was purposefully limited as McCain attempts to fend off allegations that he represents a continuation of the current administration.
The keynote addresses of Tuesday evening were delivered by former Senator and presidential candidate Fred Thompson and Independent Democrat and former vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman. In a folksy manner that raised questions of what might have been had his campaign not fallen so very flat, Thompson served up the first red meat of the convention, rallying conservatives with a mixture of charm and bravado. Lieberman followed with an appeal to our nation's interest, suggesting that these tough times require us to transcend party, and arguing that John McCain is singularly qualified to serve as our next president.
Tuesday's warning shots set the stage for perhaps the most anticipated evening of the convention on Wednesday as Sarah Palin would speak on a national stage for the first time. The festivities also featured McCain's "team of rivals," a succession of vanquished opponents from this year's Republican primary season who attested to the qualifications of their former foe and rallied behind the longtime maverick. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney led the parade, followed by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and finally former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. While the first two delivered a few memorable lines and bloodied Senator Barack Obama with an occasional blow to the chin, Giuliani proved a Brooklyn-tough prize fighter. Swaying with confidence and enthusiasm with each successive strike at the Democratic presidential nominee, Rudy played bad cop and electrified the assembled delegates at the Excel Center in St. Paul.
Sarah Palin strolled in immediately thereafter, blowing the lid off an arena and signaling a Republican Party that is clearly unified. She laid out her biography, introducing her family one-by-one, then spoke to the qualifications of John McCain, testifying to the honor of joining the ticket he heads. A good portion of the speech was devoted to the hatchet (wo)man role traditionally reserved to the running mate, and Palin proved that she will not pull punches, living up to the reputation she earned as a state championship point guard in high school, "Sarah the Barracuda."
In the end, Palin electrified a party that has been on life support of late, bringing needed enthusiasm to a ticket stuck in neutral for much and the spring and summer since McCain became the presumptive nominee. She also answered a series of questions that arose in recent days, most notably of whether or not she was ready for primetime. Early reviews are incredibly positive, and an estimated 37 million viewers, just shy of the number that tuned in for Obama's historic address one week ago, wanted to view another trailblazer in her own right. Palin set the bar remarkably high for Senator McCain this evening, especially for a man not known for his lofty oratory. Expect a workmanlike speech this evening before an audience predisposed to launch him out of the blocks for the two month sprint toward November 4.
Check back here tomorrow for a review of McCain's acceptance speech and more general observations of my experience this week attending the Republican National Convention.