Analysis: Palin sharpens tone

It was a late start for a critical week. The convention is one of a few moments, along with the fall debates, that some undecided voters tune in to politics. It's a chance to buff a nominee's appeal or dent his opponent.

More than 21 million people watched the GOP convention Tuesday night, Nielsen reported — a huge number, albeit fewer than the nearly 26 million people who watched the second night of the Democratic National Convention last week, when New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed the hall in Denver.

"It's a delayed opportunity," John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in California, said of the truncated GOP convention.

He said it probably wasn't decisive, though, especially if the speeches by Palin on Wednesday and McCain tonight go well: "There are only so many speeches people are going to listen to anyway."

Palin, little known and under fire, delivered what was probably the most anticipated speech of the convention. Looking confident and poised, she depicted herself as an independent-minded fiscal conservative, an advocate for special-needs children such as her son Trig — and a critic of Obama.

"This is a man who can give an entire speech about the wars America is fighting and never use the word 'victory' except when he's talking about his own campaign," she said. "But when the cloud of rhetoric has passed, when the roar of the crowd fades away, when the stadium lights go out, and those Styrofoam Greek columns are hauled back to some studio lot — what exactly is our opponent's plan? What does he actually seek to accomplish, after he's done turning back the waters and healing the planet?"

The crowd rose and cheered.

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