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Palin's Challenge Tonight

Palin's Challenge Tonight

By Tom Bevan - September 3, 2008

It may be cliché to say, but the stakes - and the expectations - could not be higher for Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as she takes the stage tonight, making history as the Republican Party's first female Vice Presidential nominee.

Since the surprise announcement last Friday that Palin would be joining the ticket as McCain's running mate, the media has focused on little else. From questions about her experience to revelations about her daughter, discussions about Palin have swallowed the Presidential race whole.

The McCain campaign has pushed back hard against criticisms of Palin and what they consider to be unfair scrutiny she's been receiving by the press. Tonight, however, Palin has the chance to bypass the press and to answer those questions directly and potentially win over those who are anxious or unsure whether she belongs a heartbeat away from the presidency.

To do this, Palin needs to do the following tonight:

- First and foremost, she must deliver a performance that conveys more strength, seriousness and gravitas than her initial speech in Dayton on Friday.

- Drive home her executive experience as Governor of a state with 24,000 employees and a $10 billion annual budget.

- Play up her credentials as a reformer who took on corruption and special interests in Alaska.

Palin should also point out that she rose to the top elected office by sheer determination and skill, beating an incumbent Republican and a popular Democrat - both men - along the way.

She has to do all this while still offering up the softer side that makes her such a fresh and compelling figure: the hockey mom who is raising five kids, leading the PTA and shooting moose and running marathons on her spare time.

Governor Palin is already a favorite of conservatives, so she should not waste time trying to prove her bona fides. Rather, this speech should speak to moderate and undecided voters - especially women - all around the country who will be tuning in tonight to meet her for the first time.

They will want to know who she is, where she comes from, what she believes, and what experience and value she will bring to the ticket to help John McCain deliver on his vision for America.

If she can answer these questions with a speech that demonstrates she is a serious person with serious qualifications yet also reveals a personal side that connects emotionally with the public, Palin could be a huge benefit to McCain.

With his pick of Sarah Palin, John McCain did indeed get a game changer. After tonight, we'll be a lot closer to knowing whether she changes the game positively or negatively for McCain.

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics and the co-author of Election 2012: A Time for Choosing. Email: tom@realclearpolitics.com, Twitter: @TomBevanRCP

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