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It's Sarah Palin's party Wednesday night

A star will be born tonight.

Will she be a shooting star who disappears from the Republican sky as fast as she appeared? Or will she burn brighter and brighter, to become the party’s sun?

A tortured metaphor perhaps, but those two potential outcomes are what make tonight so compelling.

There is so much curiosity about Sarah Palin — from the most loyal party activist to the average voter in Green Bay.

The folks here in St. Paul, and those back east, have expressed a similar feeling about the week: most say they are looking forward to Palin tonight more than McCain tomorrow night.

And that's the nut of the problem facing the McCain campaign on this 5th day A.P. (after Palin).

Everything is about Palin. There is no focus on McCain, no focus on Obama, just an intense focus on Palin.

The spotlight can burn
If this campaign has taught us anything it has taught us that when the intense spotlight is on a candidate, that candidate struggles. Just ask John McCain.

When he was the GOP frontrunner in the primaries, he struggled. When the press wrote him off and turned their attention to Romney, Thompson or Giuliani, McCain rose.

Same thing happened to the Democrats. When Clinton was the focus of attention, she started fading and when Obama became the focal point, Clinton caught up a bit. In the time since Obama's been the presumptive nominee, McCain has stayed in the game.

Somehow the McCain camp has to get back on offense. And with so much interest in Palin tonight, it's a big opportunity not to be missed.

Palin's speech could be the pivot point for Team McCain. If she uses her time to shift the spotlight away from herself and on to Obama, she'll have done her job as McCain's running mate.

If the post-game chatter is all about her and her credentials, and not about her attacks on Obama or even her advocacy of McCain, the campaign will have missed this opportunity.

Hockey mom, hockey arena
The bottom line is this: Two weeks ago none of us could have predicted that the most anticipated convention speech would take place in a hockey arena, delivered by a hockey mom, rather than in a football stadium, delivered by a basketball-playing dad.

Just by appearing on stage tonight, Palin should bring the house down.

But it isn't St. Paul who Palin needs to win over. She needs to connect credibly to the curious onlookers who will be tuning in (perhaps in higher numbers than for McCain tomorrow night) just to see what she says.

As for the rest of the program today, the campaign made the curious decision to feature the ex-candidates tonight, including Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani. All will be overshadowed by Palin, unless one of them tries to pull a Schweitzer (see last week's convention).

Maybe they should have been loaded up on the program last night? But considering the truncated nature of the convention, you can't blame the McCain team for some of these last minute decisions. Besides, this convention — as far as the campaign's concerned – starts tonight.