This is Alaska’s Margaret Thatcher
Tim Reid in St.Paul
Oh boy. I don’t know what is going to happen next in the Sarah Palin story, but one thing is now for sure: John McCain has picked an Alaskan Margaret Thatcher to be his running mate.
She spoke for 36 pugnacious, stilleto-heeled, in your face, Barack Obama is a limp-wristed cover boy minutes. She blew the roof off. Sarah Palin has now shaken up a presidential race like no other nominee in modern times.
She took to the stage to the back-drop of a breaking National Enquirer story, flatly denied in a press release by the John McCain campaign, that she had had an affair with her husband's former business partner. If I were the editor of the Enquirer tonight, I might be locking my front door. Who knows what will transpire from Alaska in coming days, but Mrs Palin delivered one of the most mesmerising vice-presidential nights in convention history.
The speech was wonderfully crafted by Matt Scully, a Bush White House veteran, but the scene afterwards was the embodiment of what an extraordinary country America is. Having put to rest any doubts that she is a very tough lady not afraid of a fight, many males in the audience - when not giving her a standing ovation - were instinctively crossing their legs. She was joined by her family, and it was not your normal Republican convention line up.
To an almost primal roar from the Republican delegates, who had just been treated to a barnstorming attack on the Washington media, Barack Obama, and eloquent defence of what it takes to be a mayor and governor, Mrs Palin greeted on stage her 17-year-old pregnant daughter, the father of their baby, Levi Johnston the high school ice hockey hunk who arrived in Minnesota yesterday, her snow-mobiling champion husband Todd, their son Trig born with Down’s Syndrome in April, their two other daughters, and eldest son Track, who is to be deployed to Iraq in a week's time.
We are in interesting times.
Only minutes earlier, Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and one of the most wonderful exemplars in the art of making a political opponent seem a mortal threat to US national security, had declared: How dare they! How dare they!, referring to liberal claims that Mrs Palin, because she is a mother-of-five, should not be running as a vice-presidential nominee.
Mr McCain then made a surprise appearance, but kept it at this to huge roars: “Don’t you think we made the right choice for the next vice-president of the United States? And what a beautiful family.”
This was the most viewed, and probably the most anticipated, vice-presidential acceptance speech in US history.
Mrs Palin took to the stage in high heels, a black skirt, cream tunic and pearls, her hair flowing and rimless glasses firmly on. The teleprompter carried unusually large lettering - perhaps because of her eyesight - but she betrayed no nerves.
In Alaska, they say she kills off enemies (a central allegation in the ethics investigation of which she is currently the focus.) Tonight it was obvious that it would clearly not be a good idea to cross her.
The McCain camp said before the speech that it would be short, and that she would stick to her life story. They lied.
Like Mr Giuliani before her, Mrs Palin, mayor of Wasilla - population 8,000 less than two years ago - ridiculed Mr Obama's experience as a communtiy organiser in Chicago before he entered politics.
"I guess a small town mayor is sort of like a community organiser, except that you have actual responsibilities," she said. The crowd roared.
Carrying on the theme of the convention, that the US media is a liberal mafia bent on destroying her, she said: "Here's a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators. I'm not going to Washington to seek seek their good opinion - I'm going to serve the people of this country."
Then, to the biggest ovation of the night, she said of Mr Obama: "Listening to him speak, it's easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform, not even in the state senate."
Referring to the Grecian backdrop to Mr Obama's acceptance speech in Denver last week, she said: "When the stadium lights go out, and those styrofoam Greek columns are hauled back to some studio lot what exactly is our opponents plan?"
In her peroration, she gave perhaps the most moving and passioinate defence of John McCain I have heard this year.
Alaska is crawling with journalists as I write. Six days after her nomination, they have yet to come up with a fatal revelation. She is very conservative, has little experience, but is a hockey mum who has shaken up Alaska and enraptured the Republican base.
They say what's the difference between a hockey mum and a pit bull?
"Lipstick," she said to huge cheers, as she pointed at her lips.