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With rousing convention speech, Palin becomes a force in McCain candidacy

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"I'm a leader in my township, and we now have boots on the ground we didn't have before," says Morton. "All the gals, right-to-life, home-schoolers, were going to vote for McCain, but they weren't going to work for him. Now they're going to work for him."

But for all the conservative faithful who were thrilled with Palin's address, at least one moderate in the hall wasn't so sure.

"Right now, I'm not really liking the direction the party is going in," says Ben Abrams, a senior at the University of Minnesota who attended the convention as a guest. "I caucused for McCain, after [Rudolph] Giuliani dropped out of the race. I viewed him as more of a moderate, but now I see him pandering to the right wing."

As for independent voters and the overall shape of the race, it will take several days of polling for the full effect of Palin's speech, and McCain's Thursday night, to show any impact.

But one thing is certain: Palin's speech will be discussed for days and weeks to come. In the five days between McCain's introduction of her as his running mate and her return to public view, she ran a gauntlet of media scrutiny. Her record as governor and, before that, mayor of small-town Wasilla, Alaska, have been probed – and are still being examined. Her teenage daughter's out-of-wedlock pregnancy, announced just days after Palin's selection, heightened scrutiny of McCain's vetting process. Her large family, including a baby diagnosed with Down syndrome, sparked a national discussion about working mothers.

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