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The Natural

Sarah Palin connects with people in a way that few politicians can.

1:45 AM, Sep 4, 2008 • By FRED BARNES
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St. Paul

That was easy. Sarah Palin delivered what may have been the most important speech ever by a vice presidential candidate and made it look like she'd been performing on the national political stage for years. And she made John McCain look good for having picked her as his running mate.

Yet, as governor of Alaska, Palin had never addressed as large a crowd as she did last night at the Republican convention. She'd never before given a nationally televised speech in prime time. And she'd never had to deal with a situation filled with such political peril for her, McCain, and the Republican party.

So how in the world could this 44-year-old woman with no national political experience handle the whole thing with poise and composure and seeming effortlessness? Simple. She's a natural, gifted with the ability to connect with people in a way that few politicians can and to perform under extreme pressure. She has star quality.

Political figures like this don't come along very often. And heaven knows Republicans haven't seen anyone like Palin emerge from their ranks since Ronald Reagan first attracted national attention in 1964. That's a long time to wait. They've been starved for a leader with charisma and a knack for leadership. Now they have one.

Palin shouldn't be shackled by her conservatism. True, she's a committed social conservative strongly opposed to abortion. But the portrait of her as a right-wing zealot painted by the mainstream media isn't accurate. In her short career, Palin has raised taxes, bailed out a failing state-run milk enterprise, and worked to keep federal money flowing to Alaska. She's conservative, but not that conservative.

As anyone could see last night, she can rise to the occasion. Had she flopped by looking nervous or flighty or unserious by flubbing her lines or failing to project a confident presence, the McCain-Palin ticket would be in deep trouble. Now the opposite is true: It's energized and ready for the two-month campaign for the White House.

It also helps that Palin is ambitious and driven and very tough. And to invoke the latest cliché in political parlance, she has a great "narrative." It's this: Small town girl makes good and challenges the corrupt special interests and defeats the big boys. And she does it while tending to a lovely family with five kids and a devoted husband and still finding time to hunt. Hard to beat that story.

Given the unmitigated hostility of the mainstream media since McCain announced his selection of her as his running mate five days ago, Palin had a big task to achieve in her speech. She had to introduce herself to a curious nation in a way that would erase the unfavorable image of her the press was creating. She had to sell her narrative, and she did.

That was her first big test as McCain's partner on the Republican ticket. Two more loom. The second is the media itself. She'll have to meet with reporters and TV questioners, answer legitimate questions and a lot of dopey ones, and never get flummoxed or visibly irritated. The press can be tough. I suspect Palin is tougher.

The third test is Joe Biden, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's running mate. Palin and Biden will meet in the lone vice presidential debate on October 2. Biden is formidable. He's been a senator for decades, a Washington stalwart who gets along with the press and nearly everyone else.

Palin, however, made her name in politics by her performance in gubernatorial debates in Alaska in 2006. She was a newcomer with little following in the Republican party and no strategists or handlers to give her guidance. Nonetheless, she knocked off a sitting governor. So Biden may have his hands full.

No doubt the most relieved person of all after Palin's dazzling speech was McCain. He took a huge risk in choosing someone not only from outside Washington but from outside the orbit of the national political conversation. He's been vindicated.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.