ST. PAUL, MINN.-Just before noon Wednesday, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin stood on a windy tarmac in Minneapolis with her family, waiting for the arrival of Sen. John McCain, who put the Alaska governor on his presidential ticket just last week.
McCain is scheduled to deliver his acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention (RNC) Thursday night, but on the streets of the Twin Cities, and in the halls of the Xcel Energy Center here in downtown St. Paul, convention-goers are waiting for one thing: Palin.
If last week belonged to Sen. Barack Obama in Denver, this week in Minnesota belongs to Palin. GOP leaders have vigorously backed the Alaska governor, and fiercely defended her in the wake of intense media attention directed in part at the pregnancy of her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol.
A reception for pro-life Republicans at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Tuesday afternoon turned into a tribute to Palin, as evangelical and conservative leaders praised her pro-life views to a cheering and packed crowd covered in buttons and signs touting the Alaska governor. When a pair of pro-abortion protesters slipped onto the stage, carrying signs reading: "Pro-life = Universal Healthcare," and briefly commandeering the microphone, the crowd drowned them out by chanting: "Sarah! Sarah!" McCain's name barely surfaced at the standing-room-only event.
Conservative leader Phyllis Schlafly told WORLD that she hasn't seen such enthusiasm among those on the right since President Ronald Reagan, and Richard Land of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention said, "The enthusiasm question is over."
After Wednesday night, Palin's highly anticipated RNC address will be over, too, and Republicans will turn their attention to McCain. Despite securing a vice presidential pick popular among the conservative base, McCain still holds the top spot on the ticket, and faces a formidable final two months of campaigning against the popular, well-funded, and well-organized Obama.
Once Palin's dust settles, McCain will face the same questions that have followed him for months: Can he reach a critical bloc of moderate and independent voters who don't hold socially conservative views? Can he win blue-collar voters worried about the economy? Can he sway independents unhappy over the war?
At a breakfast panel in St. Paul Wednesday morning, a handful of prominent Republicans said such victories wouldn't be easy for McCain. Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the third-ranking Republican in the House, said Democrats have simply out-organized Republicans. "The left has been incredible. They went and decided to put resources to work," said Cantor. "When you're talking about the tactics, when you're talking about the organization, … that's where we're at a disadvantage."