Palin's debut draws bravos and queries

  • Article by: KEVIN DIAZ and DAVID PHELPS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 4, 2008 - 8:57 PM

Running mate Sarah Palin enjoyed mostly glowing reviews, from pundits and voters alike, the day after her big speech.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin basked Thursday in reviews that Hollywood would envy after her national debut in prime time at the RNC.

Largely unknown until she stepped onto the convention stage Wednesday, Palin inspired a reaction typified by CNN's Anderson Cooper: "A star was born."

This was not the outcome many Democrats and media pundits had expected when GOP presidential nominee John McCain picked Palin as his running mate, plucking her from the relative obscurity of a state four time zones away from Washington.

But while she electrified the convention with her droll skewering of Democrats and her fiery defense of small-town values, it remains to be seen how many minds she changed in living rooms across Minnesota and the rest of the nation.

Jim Gard of Pennington, who describes himself as an independent voter who leans Republican, called the performance "very impressive."

"McCain made absolutely the perfect choice and I'm not all that nuts about McCain," said Gard, who said he intends to vote for the Republican.

Gard said he was still concerned about Palin's relative lack of experience, but has concluded, "It's time to take a gamble."

But Marion Hallgren of St. Cloud, an independent who leans Democrat, said the experience issue will be critical to her final decision.

"He [McCain] might have done better. He's giving Obama a better shot at winning," she said. "I know Obama doesn't have a lot of experience, but he has a better grip on things, and he's got ideas."

Style, but substance?

Palin's star turn was seen by some 37.2 million viewers, according to the latest Nielsen ratings. That's about 1 million shy of Obama's acceptance speech, which topped out at more than 38 million. By comparison, Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden pulled in 24 million viewers.

Many pundits were surprised by Palin's skillful delivery.

"I thought it was going to be rocky," said Carleton College political scientist Steven Schier. "But as far as getting an audience to identify with a speaker, she was very skilled at that."

Others remain skeptical. "She did what she needed to do," said University of Minnesota political scientist Kathryn Pearson. "But this really doesn't tell us how she will do in a debate ... or how she will respond to press questions that are quite intense when it comes to policy issues."

Democrats said much the same.

"She mastered the words by the Bush speechwriters. Unfortunately, although it's a new face and a new voice, she didn't talk about what people talk about every day -- what are the solutions?" said Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, one of the Democrats' designated hitters in a conference call on Thursday.

A real person

But for some voters, Palin's mastery of the podium -- some compared her to Democratic hopeful Barack Obama, or even former President Ronald Reagan -- seemed to diminish the questions about her thin resume in national politics.

"It seems to me she has well-rounded knowledge," said Barb Braaten of Hastings. "I look at the vice president and president as a team and I don't think that's a problem. She seems like a get-things-done kind of person.

"A woman has to work harder to prove herself," said Braaten, who is leaning toward the McCain ticket. "She showed a sense of humor, she's a real person, she's there to work. I felt better about her."

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