“The difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.”
—Gov. Sarah Palin, Sept. 3, 2008
Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska and Sen. John McCain’s recently announced running mate, took the stage. It was the night of Sept. 3, 2008. And around the country, Democratic officials and operatives were nervous. She started her speech. It had some attacks, some charm, some autobiography. And then came this moment: “I had the privilege of living most of my life in a small town,” Palin said. “I was just your average hockey mom and signed up for the PTA.” The crowd cheered. Some began chanting: “Hockey moms! Hockey moms! Hockey moms!” Palin laughed. “I love those hockey moms,” she said. “You know, they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.” The crowd went wild. A star was born. Over at Obama headquarters, there was a palpable sense of anxiety. To hear some McCain-Palin veterans tell it, the moment—which they maintain was completely spontaneous—was the best moment of a grand slam of a speech. She connected with voters; she seemed authentic, real; she lived up to her positive hype. A week beforehand, few Americans had ever heard her name. By the end of that speech, she’d become a hero of the Republican base. “That was her first test,” Fox News Channel’s Fred Barnes said that night. “She passed it easily. She made it look extremely easy and natural. And her second test will be ... she’ll have to do Meet the Press and some of these shows, talk to the press.” Indeed. Well, perhaps she only had one direction to go.