The Note: Enter John

ST. PAUL, Minn. --

Sen. John McCain has gotten the scrambled race he wanted when he turned to Gov. Sarah Palin. So this is his party now -- what does he do with it?

John McCain's convention gets to be about John McCain again (or maybe for the first time), as one of the strangest political gatherings in memory comes to a close Thursday in St. Paul with Cindy and John as your highlights.

McCain's teammate in this endeavor capped a weeklong journey from obscurity -- across Quayle Quarry and Eagleton Pass and back (no wonder Trig's hair was out of place) -- with a powerful speech that keeps her in the image game.

To wear out some imagery, the hockey mom knows how to lace up the skates -- and can deliver a check into the boards, lipstick intact.

The speech wasn't soaring or specific, but it didn't have to be. It wasn't perfect or polished, but neither is she (and that's the point).

We stayed earthbound with Sarah Palin. Yet a beleaguered party has found its inspiration -- a person who makes Republicans proud to call themselves Republicans again, even if she's someone that the "elite media" (more unpopular at the RNC than Harry Reid?) doesn't quite know what to do with. (That applies maybe even to those who have yet to learn the perils of the hot mic.)

"Ms. Palin's appearance electrified a convention that has been consumed by questions of whether she was up to the job, as she launched slashing attacks on Mr. Obama's claims of experience," Elisabeth Bumiller and Michael Cooper write in The New York Times.

"Palin pitched herself as the product of small-town America and laced her address with sarcastic digs at Sen. Obama. She said it is his experience, not hers, that is lacking, and she embraced the role of leading the attack against the Democratic ticket," Michael D. Shear writes in The Washington Post. "Palin focused on almost every tactical misstep Obama's campaign has made, painting a caricature of the Democrat as an out-of-touch elitist and a lightweight celebrity with no sense of what matters to average Americans."

Even Sen. Joe Biden was impressed -- well, sort of.

"She had a great night. I thought she had a very skillfully written, and very skillfully delivered speech," Biden, D-Del., told ABC's Robin Roberts on "Good Morning America" Thursday. "I was impressed by the speech, but I was also impressed by what I didn't hear spoken. . . . They were good, funny lines -- I'm glad they weren't about me."

Biden doesn't like the "sexist" press treatment: "The truth is, some of the stuff that the press has said about Sarah and that others have said about the governor, I think, are outrageous."

(As for whether Palin's attacks on Obama mean Biden will go after McCain: "I'm not going to change my tone, because the way I feel about John McCain is the way I feel about him.")

This, McCain could live with: "Palin's speech may overshadow even Mr. McCain's performance, with Republicans saying it was the most important event of the four-day convention a chance, for better or worse, to set the conventional wisdom on her for the rest of the campaign," Stephen Dinan writes in the Washington Times.

So if the GOP has found its hero, what of its longtime favorite antihero? McCain gets his night -- and with it turns a corner. (And might he roam the hall during his speech? That's the big rumor inside the convention hall -- around that renovated-overnight, theater-in-the-round stage, per ABC's George Stephanopoulos.")

McCain will seek to "recalibrate the central message of his campaign and the line of attack he plans to use against Sen. Barack Obama in the two months before Election Day," Shear and Robert Barnes write in The Washington Post. "McCain will seek to recast the Republican Party's brand in his own maverick image, staking his claim to the presidency on a depiction of himself as a political renegade in an attempt to overcome what he will paint as his opponent's more ephemeral call for change."

Said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., summing up the message: "Wake up! We're a party in retreat. We need to regroup, change the way we are doing business."

It's Mark Salter's night: "The speech delves into some of Sen. McCain's heroics as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and episodes from his personal history, but it isn't completely a biographical address, Mr. Salter said," Elizabeth Holmes writes in The Wall Street Journal. "One big challenge is Sen. McCain's delivery. Although he excels in the informal setting of a town-hall meeting and in back and forth with questioners, Sen. McCain tends to be wooden when speaking from a prepared text."

"The key: reasserting his credentials as a maverick who's often willing to buck his party while also framing a fall campaign that challenges Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, over who could really change Washington," McClatchy's Steven Thomma writes.

"What has yet to play out is which McCain will show himself most during the long run to Election Day -- a McCain who will push and prod his party into rehabilitating a brand that has suffered during the last four years, or a McCain who will need to position himself more in line with the party and make peace with fellow lawmakers that he frequently angered," CQ's Jonathan Allen writes.

McCain has no doubts about his partner: "The people of Alaska have vetted her," McCain told ABC's Charles Gibson. "She has been in charge and she has had national security as one of her primary responsibilities."

And, taking it right to Obama: "I'm entertained by the comparison and I hope we can keep making that comparison that running a political campaign is somehow comparable to being the executive of the largest state in America."

And Cindy McCain leads the charge in labeling her treatment: "I think it's insulting. I think it's outlandish. . . . But because she's a woman, they've decided to pick on her. And I think it's wrong," Mrs. McCain told Diane Sawyer, on ABC's "Good Morning America" Thursday. "In my opinion, what's going on right now, I truly believe, is sexism."

If Palin is right and the national media doesn't get her, the reaction from the crowd only hints at what her candidacy is doing to the Republican Party at this moment.

"She was like a one woman Fantastic Four, her faults invisible to the faithful, her strength deployed to close a 20 point white voter gender gap in key swing states, her blazing novelty enough to ignite the hall, and her biography so elastic that everyone from the gun owners to the PTA moms to the Pentecostals to the first timers felt warm in the embrace," Time's Nancy Gibbs writes.

"So this is 'Pit bull Palin,' " writes Lynn Sweet, in the Chicago Sun-Times. "With steely grit and humored determination, Palin started the job of righting her turbulent political launch."

"Drill, baby, drill. Sarah Palin was relentless in her speech Wednesday night," Slate's John Dickerson writes. "She drilled Barack Obama, elites, San Francisco, the press, and civil libertarians. She even went after Michelle Obama. And she did it all with a smile and a little mischief."

"Sarah Palin took to the podium tonight and gave the speech of a lifetime, perhaps the best nationally broadcast political introduction in the convention history, and a knock out blow to the Obama-Biden campaign and their pals in the media," Erick Erickson raves at Redstate.com.

How does Obama respond? "I don't think the Obama campaign knows exactly how this played last night," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" Thursday. "In their gut . . . I think they think it's a little too partisan, a little too ugly."

Consider the stakes: "Gov. Palin attempted to take all the problems and controversies that have arisen since Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain announced her nomination Friday -- the criticism of her level of experience, her lack of exposure on the world stage, her family's profile -- and turn them into assets with mainstream voters," Gerald F. Seib and Laura Meckler write in The Wall Street Journal. "The broader question was how her speech would play to the audience beyond [St. Paul], a question that was impossible to answer immediately."

"The question for the governor of Alaska, as she heads out across the country on her first national campaign, is whether she can do for Mr. McCain in a general election what she did last night with this audiences of delegates at the Xcel Energy Center," Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times.

"Facing concerns that she lacks the gravitas for the presidency, she chose instead to demonstrate that she has the wit, composure, and aggressiveness to be an effective vice-presidential nominee," Peter Canellos writes in The Boston Globe.

She brought it: "Palin faced her largest television audience ever, a nation transfixed by her unexpected appearance on the national scene and a bumpy family narrative, not least her unwed 17-year-old daughter's pregnancy," Kevin Diaz and Pam Louwagie write in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "In a home-spun narrative of her public career as governor and small town mayor, Palin addressed the roiling debate about her qualifications for the vice-presidency, and the inevitable comparisons to Obama."

"Palin's poised and flawless performance evoked roars of applause from delegates who earlier this week might have worried that the surprise pick and newcomer to the national stage may not be up to the job," Politico's Jeanne Cummings and Beth Frerking write. "When the nearly 40-minute address came to a close, however, all doubts were doused and Democrats were on notice that Palin will not flinch from the fight."

(Wondering aloud: Since when did the words "community organizer" sound so . . . mean?)

"She pulled it off like she was born for the moment," Michael Goodwin writes in the New York Daily News.

Maybe she was: "The speech was so effective because it was given by someone who is, at once: a relative unknown, an executive not a legislator, a real reformer, a middle American who made it on her own, an outsider who was greeted with hostility by the D.C. establishment -- and, yes, a woman," William Kristol writes for The Weekly Standard.

The rest of the speakers complemented Palin -- more polished politicians, knowing their roles. "One after another, they sought to sap Obama's signature political weapon, the promise of change. They painted Palin as a tough, hard-working everywoman with small-town values, and they ridiculed Obama as effete and insufficiently proud of his country," Jim Tankersley writes in the Chicago Tribune.

The Hotline's Jennifer Skalka: "Mothers across America -- even many who disagree with Palin's politics -- had to have felt something stir within them when they saw this 44-year-old governor cradle her baby in her arms, her husband and four other children beside her, after accepting her party's nomination for the second highest office in the land. Women who strive for fulfillment in career and family know how hard it is to juggle both."

But wait until she's out on her own: "Wednesday was the easy part," Doyle MacManus writes in the Los Angeles Times. "The more difficult test, Republican strategists said, lies ahead -- in unscripted interviews, campaign appearances and a debate with her Democratic counterpart."

A hot mic may just reveal the truth: "It's not going to work," said GOP strategist Mike Murphy, not realizing the MSNBC mic was still switched on. "It's over," added Peggy Noonan.

"Murphy and Noonan merely said what a lot of their peers and colleagues have been saying privately all week," Howard Wolfson blogs.

(Might even Nancy Reagan be hoping and dreaming? Tammy Haddad's "TamCam" catches up with Ron Reagan Jr.: "She's fine with John McCain, as I said, they've been friends for a long time," Reagan said of his mother's leanings. "I can tell you though that she's also very impressed with Barack Obama.")

Palin she doesn't get to write this script, either: "A look at her record as mayor of the small town of Wasilla and as governor of Alaska shows a politician more flexible in her ideology as she has juggled the needs of governing," per The Wall Street Journal. "Gov. Palin has supported abortion restrictions and floated the idea of pulling books she considered offensive from a local library. But she also drew the ire of the religious right by shelving calls for new abortion limits, when she worried it would distract from her bipartisan deal to push through a new gas pipeline. She forced through property-tax cuts, but also raised taxes on oil companies. She has close relations with organized labor, backing union contracts on a state pipeline."

More on the fired trooper: "Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the running mate for GOP presidential candidate John McCain, wrote e-mails that harshly criticized Alaska state troopers for failing to fire her former brother-in-law and ridiculed an internal affairs investigation into his conduct," James V. Grimaldi and Karl Vick report in The Washington Post.

"The e-mails were shown to The Washington Post by a former public safety commissioner, Walter Monegan, who was fired by Palin in July. Monegan has given copies of the e-mails to state ethics investigators to support his contention that he was dismissed for failing to fire Trooper Mike Wooten, who at the time was feuding with Palin's family," they write. "Palin had promised to cooperate with the legislative inquiry, but this week moved to change the jurisdiction of the case to the state personnel board, which Palin appoints."

"I think there are some questions now that, coming to light about how transparent and how honest she wants to be," Monegan tells ABC's Brian Ross, Joseph Rhee, and Len Tepper.

Add this: "Long before a legislative investigation into the firing of Alaska's public safety director began, Gov. Sarah Palin faced controversy for her management style," John Fritze and Matt Kelley write for USA Today. "Supporters -- including the man who picked her to be his running mate, Republican presidential candidate John McCain -- cite Palin as a leader willing to shake up the establishment. Others say she has been unnecessarily abrupt and dismissive of employees."

The scrutiny continues: "Sarah Palin got her first passport in 2006 and has visited just four countries, and has had little involvement in her state's cross-border issues, raising questions about her supporters' assertions that Alaska's proximity to Russia has given her unique experience on foreign affairs," Bryan Bender and Sasha Issenberg write in The Boston Globe. "A review of Palin's 20 months in office shows that aside from overseeing the National Guard's state-level emergency missions, as all governors do, the first-term governor played no role in any territorial defense or other national defense operations involving military forces."

"Palin has never personally ordered the state guard to do anything," George Bryson reports in the Anchorage Daily News. "The governor has no command authority overseas or anywhere in the United States other than Alaska, said Maj. Gen. Craig Campbell, the service commander of the Alaska National Guard."

That was quite a pushback against a National Enquirer report alleging Palin infidelities -- particularly a report that hasn't been published yet. "Obviously, they want to rally voters behind her. But are they doing Palin a service?" asks ABC's Jake Tapper.

And Rev. Jeremiah Wright, meet the Rev. Ed Kalnins. "Kalnins has begun to gain attention after The Huffington Post political website reported Tuesday that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the presumptive Republican vice presidential nominee, may have drawn her religious convictions from Kalnins' Pentecostal church," Robert Stern writes for Religion News Service. "Kalnins has preached that critics of President Bush will be banished to hell; questioned whether people who voted for Sen. John Kerry in 2004 would be accepted into heaven; and preached that the Sept. 11 attacks and the war in Iraq were part of a world war over Christianity."

Wait until she comes down on this one: "Palin's record on immigration, as recorded by Nexis and Google, is practically nonexistent, and everyone from bloggers to members of Palin's own party seemed unsure of her views," Jim Snyder writes for The Hill.

"When it comes to matters like trade, immigration, Social Security and Medicare, her record is mostly a blank slate," Bloomberg's Matthew Benjamin and Nicholas Johnston report.

More from Rudy ("Nada!") . . . and Mitt ("Liberals!") . . . and Huck ("Media!").

Elsewhere at the RNC -- what Joe has wrought: "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) faces mounting pressure to strip Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) of his chairmanship in the wake of Lieberman's decision to attack Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) in a speech Tuesday at the GOP convention," Roll Call's Emily Pierce writes. Said a Senate Democratic aide: "The only thing that would keep Joe Lieberman afloat is if we picked up enough seats to get to [a filibuster-proof] 60 [votes] and he's 60th."

Attention White House folks: The morning "gaggle" and the afternoon briefing will become one: "I'm going to try and experiment, to collapse the gaggle and the briefing, which the -- which someone affectionately called the 'griefing,' " said press secretary Dana Perino, per Politico's Mike Allen.

The Sked:

It's John and Cindy McCain in the spotlight Thursday as the Republican National Convention comes to a close.

Sen. Barack Obama spends the day in Pennsylvania: A hyrdro plant in York, a few stops in Lancaster -- and, oh yeah, an interview with Bill O'Reilly, to be aired at 8 pm ET on Fox News.

From the Obama campaign: "While the Republican National Convention continues to offer more of the same, Senator Barack Obama is in Pennsylvania today where he will hold an event in Lancaster to discuss the change America needs."

The Kicker:

"[O]ur political reporting has obviously proven to be more detail-oriented than the McCain campaign's vetting process." -- National Enquirer statement issued to the press in advance of Sarah Palin story

"We have better Internet connectivity in Alaska than they do at that hotel." -- Alaska convention delegation chairman Chris Nelson, not upgraded along with his governor.

"Terrorist states are seeking new-clear weapons without delay." -- Prepared text from Palin's convention speech (signaling a clear break with President Bush).

Viewing Guide:

ABC NewsNOW coverage of the Republican National Convention, hosted by Sam Donaldson and Rick Klein, resumes at 7 pm ET (6 pm CT) Thursday. Access the gavel-to-gavel action at abcnews.com/politics.

Guests include Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.; and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman.

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