Palin choice energizes party

The Republicans emerge from their national convention with a new star – and it isn't their presidential nominee.

It's vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Even with John McCain's speech Thursday, it was clear that he will share the spotlight through the fall with his charismatic No. 2 rather than watch her slip back into the shadows, as running mates normally do.

It's even possible that he may slip into her shadow.

That could have a downside if the first-term Alaska governor strikes swing voters as too strident, as Democrats said Thursday, or too inexperienced, as they've said all week. It's too early to tell.

But the upside was clear immediately, as her strong performance Wednesday night is exciting the party's conservative base and giving Republican insiders hope for the first time that they'll be able get volunteers to knock on doors and battle street by street, a critical tool in a close election.

In the battleground state of Virginia, for example, Glenn Druckenbrod said he was heading to the local Republican headquarters Thursday to volunteer after watching Palin's speech.

“As a conservative, I've been frustrated since 1988 that we have been lacking an effective communicator,” said Druckenbrod, a doctor from Fairfax Station.

“We had George H.W. Bush, then Bob Dole, then George W. Bush. None were effective communicators. Now we've got John McCain. … The guy doesn't light you up. Now the Republican Party has someone who can communicate.”

That's no small thing for a party that's been suffering at the short end of an enthusiasm gap.

Although polls all summer have shown a close race between McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, insiders in both parties have observed that the Democrats, eager to end the Bush years, have more energy on their side. Republicans, particularly conservatives, have been lukewarm at best about McCain, whose reputation was earned by opposing his own party.

That could be critical this fall if the election is close and victory depends on what campaigns call the “ground game” of volunteers knocking on doors.

President Bush had that advantage in 2004; his get-out-the-vote engine squeezed out a win in Ohio and locked up his re-election.

“She was a loud alarm clock that woke up all political junkies that were asleep,” said delegate Jim Bention of Monroe.

“A lot of people can give a good speech,” said Vin Weber, a former GOP congressman from Minnesota. “Only occasionally is there someone who also connects with people in a very personal way. She connected. She has that X factor.”