Republican National Convention organizers huddle last night after an opening session that replaced a slate of speakers with an abbreviated program that focused on relief for the victims of Hurricane Gustav (WND photo)

ST. PAUL, Minn. – While Republicans are respectfully easing into their national convention in the wake of Hurricane Gustav, they aren’t holding back their enthusiasm for the party’s new superstar, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, regarding her not only as a catalyst for victory in November but as a possible transitional figure, reflecting a more “conservative” future course.

Presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain has conceded to a party platform calling for an outright ban on abortion, with no exceptions, and Minnesota GOP leader Michael Barrett says the 44-year-old VP pick has instantly awakened his campaign ground troops and put his “blue state” in play for Republicans.

“I haven’t seen the base this motivated,” said Barrett, the party’s state executive vice chairman. “It was just instantaneous, people who were a little uncertain on McCain, all of a sudden they’re calling and asking me, ‘Where can I get signs, where can I get signs?'”

“I mean it just changed everything overnight,” he told WND.

Gary Bauer, former head of the Family Research Council and a 2000 presidential candidate, believes the reaction to the VP pick he saw Sunday at his Northern Virginia nondenominational Bible church is reflected nationwide.

Gary Bauer at the Republican National Convention yesterday (WND photo)

“Before this week, there was a, ‘Oh, yeah, I guess I’ll vote for Sen. McCain,'” he told WND. “But there was an electricity when I arrived there. I was immediately set upon by people in the church saying, ‘Oh, this is exciting, I’m on board.'”

Ken Blackwell, a Republican leader in Ohio who ran for governor and was secretary of state during the state’s crucial vote count in the 2004 presidential election, told WND he was with conservative groups Friday, Saturday and Sunday before arriving here.

“The enthusiasm is off the charts,” he said, calling McCain’s choice a “brilliant” pick. “This has really energized the based.”

The support for Palin on the convention floor didn’t appear dampened by news reports dominating mainstream media yesterday of Palin’s 17-year-old daughter’s pregnancy and an ongoing probe into the firing of her former brother-in-law. McCain responded today to questions about his selection process at a campaign stop in Philadelphia.

“The vetting process was completely thorough, and I’m grateful for the results,” he said.

Red state, blue state

Bauer pointed out the news in recent months has focused on which “red states” – states held by Republicans in previous presidential elections – will flip into the blue, or Democratic column.

“I’m not sure they’re going to flip any,” Bauer said, “and I now think there are a number of blue states, like Minnesota, like Michigan, perhaps Wisconsin, that are going to be in play.”

Barrett believes Palin could swing Minnesota’s crucial 10 electoral votes to the GOP.

He explained that in order to win a statewide race, a candidate must carry Minnesota’s rural western third and southern third by at least 55 percent to counter the Democratic vote elsewhere.

Cindy McCain and Laura Bush receive a thunderous standing ovation in a brief, surprise appearance at the RNC’s abbreviated opening sesson (WND photo)

Palin appeals to the 40 percent of voters in Minnesota’s “L” identified as populists and independents, “simply because of her personal qualities,” Barrett said.

“She’s a lifelong National Rife Association member, a working mother; she understands the working class, people can relate to her and she’s just honest and genuine,” he said.

As a candidate, “she’s designed perfectly for the male hunters there and the females, who tend to be conservative,” Barrett explained. “She’s ideal for the western ring of the suburbs, for the soccer moms, which were a critical vote for Hillary and who already are expressing a lot of support for Palin.”

Bauer, alluding to recent attempts by the Obama campaign to brand McCain as a rich, elitist, focusing on how many homes he owns, says that “for all the talk on the left that they represent the little guy, really they are so far out of touch with average Americans it’s not even funny.”

One generation to another

Barrett already sees Palin as a transitional figure in the party.

“We’re going through a transition from one generation to the next, from the Bush and McCain era,” said Barrett. “We’re going to the next generation and who’s going to determine what the Republican Party’s values are.”

The Fox News tent dominates the high-security entrance to St. Paul’s Xcel Center (WND photo)

Already one of the party’s most important values, the protection of the unborn, has been set on more a more conservative path in conjunction with Palin’s rise, with the approval yesterday of a platform that calls for banning abortion with no exceptions..

McCain wanted exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother, but he has shown exceptional deference to Bauer and other like-minded leaders.

Bauer said McCain asked him to come to the Twin Cities last week to help complete the abortion platform and was please to find the draft was already “amazingly strong.”

“As delegates began offering amendments to strengthen it even more, Bauer said, “the attitude of the McCain people was, ‘Well, you need to understand that’s not where the candidate is, but we need to understand the platform is a statement of principle for this party long beyond the election, and you know, we certainly will not fight you over these things.'”

“I thought it could be a little bit of an awkward week,” Bauer told WND, “but in fact it was an incredibly cooperative week, and to me was one of the signs that Sen. McCain very much knows that he can’t be president without the conservative base.”


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