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Sarah Palin's first 15 minutes of fame on John McCain's GOP ticket

August 29, 2008 |  5:31 pm

It's a long ways from the deck of one of Sen. John McCain's uncountable houses in Sedona, Ariz., to the modest city of Wasilla, Alaska, that Gov. Sarah Palin calls home with her fisherman husband Todd and their five children to the Buckeye Corner sporting goods store in West Columbus, Ohio.

And to the home pages and front pages of a nation seemingly fascinated by the sudden explosion onto the political stage of a fresh, bespectacled face among a crowd of too-familiar folks who've been yada-yada-ing about the same old stuff for nearly 20 months now.

Alaska Governor and new Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin with her husband Todd and their fifth child, Trig

Now, just in time for Labor Day, a new drama series to follow.

But in a matter of hours the dramatic selection of the 44-year-old reform Republican woman with the sharp elbows under the basketball hoops as McCain's running mate suddenly changed the subject away from last night's immense Democratic evangelical gathering at Denver's Invesco Field.

And it instantly energized much of the GOP's conservative base that has been yawning its way through the summer with the aging Arizona heir to its party nomination.

Charlie Black, a senior McCain advisor, told The Times' Maeve Reston that he was just in a room with 300 conservatives where James Dobson, the Focus on the Family founder who reaches millions of evangelicals daily with his radio broadcasts and was once threatening....

...not even to vote he was so underwhelmed by McCain, walked in and announced that Palin had done the trick and he was gonna endorse the GOP candidate.

And the seas parted!

The Ticket reported this morning that Dobson wasn't thAlaska Governor Sarah Palin presiding. She's John McCain's vice presidential running mate on the Republican tickete only conservative pleased with the surprise VP selection, which McCain revealed at midweek to the self-described hockey mom.

And suddenly there she was this afternoon on center stage with her running mate visiting one of those souvenir shrines to the Ohio State Buckeyes and bumping into Joan McCann, a 61-year-old independent voter who called Palin's choice "brilliant, inspiring" and said she was now leaning toward McCain.

"Thank you so much," Palin replied before plunging into the sea of red gear to purchase a fleece hoodie for herself, a sleeper for her newborn Trig, and a cheerleader's outfit for her excited daughter Piper, who might be excused for thinking this sudden fame business has its perks.

Even Rush Limbaugh, the maestro of McCain skepticism on the right, reported to his millions of listeners and online subscribers an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response to the selection of a governor with a compelling personal narrative who cut taxes as a mayor and successfully stood up to a corrupt party establishment to become chief executive of the nation's largest state.

And the new energy couldn't come -- not accidentally, of course -- at a better time for the Republican's campaign as it heads into its national convention in St. Paul starting Monday, unless the German hurricane called Gustav changes the schedule.

At organizational convention meetings in St. Paul this afternoon, word was passed that about $2 million in new donations had poured into the campaign and Republican National Committee within three hours of Palin's announcement.

Scott Reed, who managed former Sen. Bob Dole's unsuccessful presidential run in 1996, told The Times' Michael Finnegan that the choice of Palin was a "bold and imaginative move" that "totally restructured the race. She brings McCain back to being a true reformer and an agent of change."

Reed said she's a good campaigner who upset a Republican incumbent and beat a better-known returning Democratic gubernatorial candidate. She advocates energy independence. Her husband works on an oil rig and belongs to a union. "The movement conservatives are ecstatic," Reed said.

Then, he added, "Her two years of executive-level decision-making as the governor are two more than Biden and Obama have combined."

It's a long way to Nov. 4. Many potential potholes for the national neophyte. But the first few hours were good. Then, as she left the Buckeye souvenir shop with her purchases, the Republican Party's newest national star turned to her daughter with concern.

"Are you sure we paid for it?" she asked, worried about shoplifting on her first day as the party's vice presidential nominee-to-be. There were no arrests.

--Andrew Malcolm

Photo credit: Al Grillo / Associated Press

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