ST. PAUL, Minn. - Sarah Palin has done in five days what John McCain has never been able to do — fire up the Republican Party's conservative base.
The No. 2 on the Republican ticket clearly impressed the party faithful Wednesday as she smoothly moved from lavishing praise on McCain — "a true profile in courage" who has "determination, resolve, and sheer guts" — to throwing punches at Democratic rival Barack Obama.
"Victory in Iraq is finally in sight. He wants to forfeit," Palin said in her vice presidential acceptance speech. "Government is too big. He wants to grow it. Congress spends too much. He promises more. Taxes are too high. He wants to raise them."
Even as controversy swirled around the Alaska governor, there was little doubt that loyalists loved this mother of five, churchgoer, abortion opponent and moose hunter. They erupted at every mention of her name before she took the stage. And they gave her a thunderous welcome when she emerged.
The question now: Do they adore her enough to turn out in droves for McCain in the fall?
Obama had better hope not.
Palin's selection has "reinvigorated the whole Republican Party. People who were feeling down are excited again," said Eagle Forum head Phyllis Schlafly. "Hell, they're even getting enthusiastic about McCain."
The one-time scourge of the Republicans who now is its new standard-bearer has never been a favorite of the party's right flank. He isn't publicly passionate about cultural issues the base holds dear, and distrust remains years after he called influential Christian conservative leaders "agents of intolerance."
Nonetheless, he tried to get the security, fiscal and social conservative bloc to support him during the Republican primary.
He won the nomination anyway, and hoped the right would eventually fall in line.
It still didn't.
The Republican conservative core has been depressed with its nominee since he clinched the nomination in March. McCain has made slow progress drawing the base to his side and getting it ginned up for the fall.
Conversely, the liberal Democratic foundation long ago embraced Obama and is, as the Illinois senator says, "fired up, ready to go."
Then, McCain chose Palin.
Conservatives sounded like the world was right again.
"An outstanding choice," praised Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.
"Grand slam home run," gushed former presidential candidate Gary Bauer.
"Ecstatic," said Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention.
And, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch added, "I had tears in my eyes."
McCain insists he chose Palin because she was the best candidate — not because she was the best political option to appease conservatives.
"I can look the country in the eye and say this is a person who will bring change to Washington and start working for you and upon your side," he told ABC News.
Not everyone seems to buy that answer.
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican, talked of the "pragmatism of politics" and said, "McCain felt that he had to solidify the base."
An AP-Ipsos poll from August showed McCain winning roughly the same percentage of Republicans as Obama would Democrats, but it also found McCain had the support of a smaller slice of conservatives than Obama had of liberals.