The night's speaking program started very slowly but picked up steam as it wore on -- a good thing for Mitt Romney and Republicans since the major national networks only showed the 10 pm hour of the festivities.
Below is our take on the best and the worst of the night that was. Agree with our picks? Or -- more likely -- disagree? The comments section awaits.
* Condoleezza Rice: Rice's speech had it all. She spoke forcefully on foreign policy (no surprise there from a former secretary of state) but also showed that she could speak just as powerfully on domestic issues. Her emphasis on educational reform undoubtedly appealed to the ideological middle of the country. And her personal touches - telling the now-familiar story of growing up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama - were moving and powerful. With her speech, Rice ensured that the next time the Republican presidential nomination is open, she will be a major player in the race. (If she wants to be, that is.)
* Paul Ryan: The Wisconsin congressman started very slowly - so slowly that we had begun to put him mentally into our "loser" category. He was halting in his delivery, stepping on applause lines and quotable lines alike. But about halfway through his speech, Ryan found his footing. He made the case against the Obama administration effectively - "They have no answer to this simple reality: We need to stop spending money we don't have" - and argued just as effectively for Romney. He spoke eloquently about how he and Romney were of different faiths but, at their core, believed the same things. One other note: Ryan's speech was the best written of any we've heard so far at the convention. It was packed with great lines, most of which - particularly in the second half of his speech - Ryan delivered well.
* Susana Martinez: Before tonight most people - including most Republicans - didn't know much (if anything) about the New Mexico governor. Martinez changed that with down-to-earth delivery and an ease in the moment that many politicians with much more experience on the national stage would rightly envy. In listening to Martinez, she struck us as the female equivalent of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie - very comfortable in her own skin. The strength of Martinez's speech was, for us, the most surprising thing about the night.
* The Pauls: The entire first hour of tonight's official program was dedicated to Ron and Rand Paul. First came the four-plus minute video of politicians from Sen. Jim DeMint to Sen. Mitch McConnell (!) praising Paul, a validation of the campaign the Texas congressman has been running for the last five years or so. Then came Rand Paul, the Kentucky senator, who had the Paulites in the convention crowd fired up with his attacks on the constitutionality (or lack thereof) of President Obama's health care law. The idea that a full hour of nighttime programming at a GOP convention would be dedicated to the Pauls would have been unthinkable as recently as a few years ago. Tonight it became a reality.
* Tim Pawlenty: We'll never understand why the former governor of Minnesota fashions himself as some sort of amateur comedian. He opened his speech Wednesday night with 10 minutes of not-so-funny jokes about Obama that elicited as many groans as laughs. Once Pawlenty turned to advocating for Romney and the Republican Party, he did quite well. But that was about three-quarters of the way through his speech. Too little. Too late.
* John Thune: On paper, the South Dakota senator has it all - conservative bona fides, good looks, Midwestern roots. But in three dimensions Thune is less impressive. He was somewhat flat in his delivery and the crowd seemed largely disinterested. Speaking before primetime didn't help Thune - the crowd is just very dialed in until10 p.m. or so - but he didn't bring the sort of energy and charisma required to leave a major mark on the proceedings.
* "Interviews" with delegates: In a transparent attempt to break the monotony of speech after speech, convention planners interspersed several live interviews with delegates throughout the program. It didn't work. The interviews felt scripted and wound up sapping some of the momentum and energy from the room rather than building on it.
* Convention floor dancing: Let's start with this: The Fix is a bad dancer. But, we know well enough not to dance. Not so for many of the convention delegates whose awkward dancing brought the Fix back to his junior high school dance days. And not in a good way.