One by-product of the Sarah Palin affair is that her speech tonight is vastly more eagerly anticipated than the address John McCain will give on Thursday night. As any Broadway producer can tell you, it's quite something when the understudy takes top billing from the headline star. That's not always a good thing. Then again, she's the new kid on the block, whereas McCain's been around for decades. No-one in their right mind queued up to see John Edwards in 2004 or Lieberman and Cheney in 2000 did they? Sarah Palin is already ahead of them, then...
So what does she need to do tonight? For what little it's worth:
- The Three Cs: Confident, Comfortable and in Control. If she can seem at home at the podium and is neither over-awed by the rapturous reception she receives, nor overwhelmed by the occasion and sudden responsiblity she bears, then she'll go a long way towards reassuring at least some voters.
- Be natural. There's no point her getting into too much policy detail. Chances are it will sound phoney. But there musn't be a girly "pinch-me-so-I-know-I'm-not-dreaming" quality to her speech either. She must avoid any hint of the Sally Field "You like me! You really like me!" debacle.
- There's no need to overdo the "I'm Ready" stuff. Her appeal rests on other qualities.
- Make a virtue of what the media perceives to be her weakness: her very ordinaryness. She is not from Washington, not like those other guys. She demonstrates the great diversity of America - not in terms of gender, but in geography and the many ways in which Americans can find their way to the top, often in the least likely circumstances.
- They say she's just a small town mayor. Well, hell, yeah, damn straight. That's the point. Every Vice-Presidential nominee in recent memory was a Washington figure: Biden, Edwards, Cheney, Lieberman, Gore, Kemp, Quayle, Bentsen, Ferraro, Bush, Mondale, Dole. Don't you think it's time for a change? Don't you think it's time for a different kind of politician?
- So, yes, she's just a young woman from a small town in a small state far away from Washington. But Alaskan values are American values: the values of the frontier and the pioneering spirit. Stress that she's from the "Real America" - the America you all live in. As a Mayor, she understands the things "ordinary" people worry about everyday. And as a Governor - one of a select club that only has 50 members - she's seen the need for reform and understands what Washington needs to do for the states - and what Washington needs to leave to the states.
- Emphasise that she believes in challenging the status quo. Just like John McCain.
- John McCain is a real American hero; I'm just a real American proud to serve my country.
- Faith. Family. Country. How can you go wrong with that?
And, of course, the media pundits have so lowered expectations that I'd bet that, unless something goes grievously wrong, she's going to clear the expectations bar. God help me, I may even stay up and live-blog the damn thing...
UPDATE: Mike Crowley has (characteristically good) related thoughts, here.