On the Convention Floor

Thursday, September 4, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn, Sept. 3 -- In the front row at the Xcel Energy Center, Michigan delegates Shirley Nagel and Nancy Cassis leaned into the aisle, scanned the stage and waited. Past 10 p.m. and still no sign.

Where was she, already?

It felt, Nagel said, like waiting for the appearance of a bride.

Nagel, a retired schoolteacher from Detroit, had anticipated few events as eagerly as she did Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's speech Wednesday night. Ever since Sen. John McCain named her his running mate Friday, Nagel had watched clips of Palin on television, read stories about her in the newspaper, and learned enough about her family -- the new baby, the pregnant daughter, the daughter's boyfriend -- to feel, Nagel said, "like we've known each other for 20 years." All that remained, she said, was a formal introduction.

"You judge a book by its cover, and we've been waiting for that chance with her," said Nagel, dressed in a hockey jersey like the rest of the Michigan delegation. "We want to see how tall she is, if she wears heels, how she wears her hair. That's stuff us Republican women need to know."

When Palin finally did make her introduction, Nagel approved of what she saw -- and heard. Nagel once coached a high school speech and debate team, and she liked how Palin defended her family without sounding defensive. She stood up on her red folding chair at the end of Palin's speech and leaned in to take a picture. "She started with the family and then moved on, just like everybody should do," Nagel shouted above the roar of the crowd. "She's a woman, and she showed she's tough. She attacked Obama. She touched on all the issues. We love her."

Said Cassis, a state senator from suburban Detroit: "This is history. The Democrats had a chance to put a woman on the ticket, and they punted. Not us. [Palin] is elevating women just by her presence. I will always remember this."

-- Eli Saslow

© 2008 The Washington Post Company