Video: Palin speech pumps up GOP

By Chief White House correspondent and political director
NBC News
updated 9/4/2008 12:49:24 PM ET 2008-09-04T16:49:24

This is supposed to be a column that previews the upcoming convention day, but given the history made Wednesday night by Sarah Palin, it's hard not to dwell on the speech heard 'round the world.

In a span of 24 hours, Palin has set herself up, potentially, as the heir apparent to the 21st century Republican Party.

And her ascension is something the party desperately needed.

Palin's speech may prove as significant as two key convention addresses:

  • Ronald Reagan in 1964, when he spoke on behalf of Republican candidate Barry Goldwater. It's a moment many mark as the beginning of Reagan's transformation from actor to politician.
  • Barack Obama in 2004, when the senator gave the convention's keynote speech. It helped launch his status as a nationally recognized political figure - something he rode all the way to the Democratic nomination.

But there's a question everyone will be asking Thursday: Is this John McCain's party or Sarah Palin's?

McCain's speech
Thanks to Palin, McCain has secured the base and is generating tons of excitement — allowing him room to maneuver ideologically.

He can give a speech Thursday that falls flat with the arena but pushes plenty of undecided voter buttons.

Democrats are still trying to figure out exactly how to attack Palin, but so far, there's one criticism that has stuck out to me: her relative lack of attention to the economy, health care, and education.

This is now fertile ground for McCain. He's not seen as someone who enjoys grounding himself in the pocketbook issues, but it may be his priority Thursday.

I'll be curious to see if McCain includes as much conservative red meat in his speech as was offered on Wednesday.

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My guess? No.

Base-fueled election?
But if the speech ends up as strident as Obama's last week (when he surprised a lot of folks with the amount of McCain attacks strewn in his very effective acceptance speech), then it'll be a clue that McCain's camp thinks this election is going to be fueled by the party's base.

This isn't McCain's personal comfort zone — it's the campaign's comfort zone.

After the speech, all eyes will be on the polling bounce.

By all accounts (via public and private polls) it appears Obama enjoyed about a 5 point bounce after Denver.

Can McCain make that back? We'll see.

Almost all of Obama's bounce came from undecided Democrats.

The rest of the Republican undecideds don't appear as movable right now, which is why I think it's possible McCain's bounce might not be as high as Obama's.

But who knows, Palin has certainly introduced an entirely new dynamic to this campaign.

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