Two weeks ago, had someone told me that the Republican convention would generate energy, excitement, drama, suspense, and unity, I probably would have laughed in their face, or cried in my beer. At best, I hoped for a solid effort to bring people together for what looked to be a grueling general election campaign. Instead, John McCain found a formula to generate momentum and to unite the competing factions of the GOP under a reform banner, while simultaneously lifting the next generation of Republicans.
This convention had its difficulties to surmount, though. The self-imposed limitations of Day One while McCain and Sarah Palin attended to Hurricane Gustav essentially ground the momentum of her selection to a halt, and allowed a vacuum that got filled with slurs and innuendo. By the time the convention got back into gear on Day Two, a sense of siege could be sensed in the Xcel.
However, unlike the assumptions of a few in the media who began talking about an “Eagleton option”, this sense of siege had two effects on the assembled. First, it rallied them around Palin, even before they’d had a chance to hear her speak. Second, it reminded them that the media would play a hostile role in this election, even with a man with proven centrist and reform credentials at the top of the ticket. When people like John Roberts started questioning whether the little woman wouldn’t be better advised staying home with the kiddies, people got angry — and they got motivated.
By Wednesday, the stage was set inside the convention for a hero’s welcome for Palin. Anticipation ran as high inside as expectations got set low by the media, and the combination gave Palin a hanging curve to hit for a grand slam. Not only did she perform magnificently within or without that context, Palin energized people to fight despite the hostile media and the slurs.
Wednesday night was the emotional climax of the convention. Day Four brought a glow of success and hope that Republicans could prevail in this election. No one expected John McCain to top the energy of his running mate — indeed, he couldn’t have possibly done so, because McCain is a known quantity. However, after Wednesday night, people had a lot more enthusiasm for McCain himself, thanks to his choice of running mate. If Thursday night didn’t reach the heights of emotion and excitement of the previous night, it served as a comfortable afterglow to a convention that had reached beyond anyone’s expectations.
We could see this on the inside, even if it didn’t come across in the televised coverage. By Thursday, people had confidence in this ticket and looked forward to seeing them campaign against Obama. And the latest CBS poll, which saw Obama’s convention bounce eliminated before Palin’s speech, bolstered that confidence significantly.
I have more video from the convention coming today, so stay tuned.