MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
Going into this week's Republican Convention, one problem that John McCain faced was the mistrust of social conservatives. In the GOP, they're an important constituency, people who will knock on doors and stuff envelopes to elect a like-minded candidate.
Many doubted that John McCain fit the bill, but Sarah Palin did. And as my co-host, Robert Siegel, has found in St. Paul, no information that's come out about the Alaska governor has shaken their enthusiasm.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Rick Santorum, the conservative Christian Republican from Pennsylvania, was swept out of the U.S. Senate two years ago. In the spring he was for Mitt Romney. Now in St. Paul, he has newfound enthusiasm for the GOP ticket.
Mr. RICK SANTORUM (Former Republican Senator, Pennsylvania): I was scheduled to be here. I was a delegate. I was coming. And I was going to be supporting John McCain, but I do so with a little bit of lilt, more lilt in my step.
SIEGEL: Because of Sarah Palin. Unlike McCain, she is a kindred spirit, strongly pro-life. Her lack of experience with national and global issues?
Mr. SANTORUM: When you run for vice president, you have an opportunity during the time that you're vice president to learn a heck of a lot. No, she probably doesn't know who the president of Turkmenistan is, but she doesn't need to know that right now. She will learn and she will learn, you know, with a firehose attached to her mouth. I mean, she's going to - it's going to be pretty tough.
Mr. SANTORUM: Force-fed.
SIEGEL: Pure enthusiasm. For Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback, a man who attends both Protestant and Catholic churches, same story.
Senator SAM BROWNBACK (Republican, Kansas): I had people coming up to me at church yesterday that haven't been excited for four years, are excited and pumped. I mean, we just haven't had any excitement in the party for four years, and people are excited now. So it seems like to me, it's a big gamble in a sense that, okay, what all may come out. But the initial play is this has been a big hit.
SIEGEL: If the Sarah Palin effect works, it could help John McCain win states where the polls are close and conservative evangelicals are well represented, states like Colorado.
Ms. LAURA BUSH (First Lady): Well, I just wanted to have this chance to drop by to encourage you to go back on to Colorado and Idaho and turn everybody out and carry your states for John McCain and Sarah Palin. I'm so excited to have this chance to vote for a Republican woman. I wish you can do the same.
(Soundbite of applause)
SIEGEL: Laura Bush was at this morning's breakfast with the Colorado and Idaho delegations. Kathleen LeCrone, a delegate from Centennial, Colorado, has responded to the Palin nomination just as the McCain campaign would have hoped.
Ms. KATHLEEN LeCRONE (Delegate, Colorado): She brings a lot of energy. She brings, obviously, the female perspective, mother perspective, but also very good on energy policy. I think she just brings a lot to the ticket.
SIEGEL: She'll be very much identified with what we'll call culturally conservative stands.
Ms. LeCRONE: Sure.
SIEGEL: How does that play out in Colorado politics? Who's attracted to that? What is it that causes your problems?
Ms. LeCRONE: Well, I think the conservatives in Colorado really - that brings a lot to the table. But I, you know, I think that it, in general, it brings a lot to the ticket because there are so many of us that have been kind of taken advantage of in the past. The Republicans have always said, hey, they're going to vote for us no matter what. And I think they're finally realizing, yes, we probably will vote for you no matter what, but this adds the no matter what back into the picture.
SIEGEL: Colorado party chair Dick Wadhams is a big Palin booster. Yesterday, he was on message with perfect pitch. Sarah Palin, he told me, has more executive experience than the entire Democratic ticket. This morning, his enthusiasm was undimmed, her daughter's pregnancy not withstanding.
Mr. DICK WADHAMS (Chairman, Colorado Republican Delegation): I think the vast majority of Americans are going to appreciate how Governor Palin and her husband are handling this situation. It's entirely consistent with what their public beliefs are. And I think the American people are going to be very supportive of her.
SIEGEL: There's a story in the Washington Post this morning that as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, she retained the lobbying firm closely associated with Senator Ted Stevens, and the town got $27 million in earmarks for retainers of, you know, a fraction of that. Sounds - it doesn't sound like a big reformer. It sounds like an ordinary mayor.
Mr. WADHAMS: It sounds to me like what mayors across the country do in trying to secure federal funds.
SIEGEL: You're not at all concerned that reporting her opposition research might be peeling the varnish off of the candidate here?
Mr. WADHAMS: No, no. I'm far more concerned about a guy like Joe Biden who plagiarized, who made his disparaging remark about Indian-Americans owning convenience stores. I would much rather have Governor Palin than somebody like Joe Biden.
SIEGEL: The youngest member of Dick Wadhams' Colorado delegation is 21-year-old Summer Vanderbilt, a college student from Colorado Springs. That's a center of Christian conservative activism. I asked her about the story of Bristol Palin's baby.
Ms. SUMMER VANDERBILT (Student): It's actually a pro-life statement that she's making.
SIEGEL: Does it in any way take the luster off of her candidacy?
Ms. VANDERBILT: Actually, I see more people being excited about more interesting turn of events, like we had a very exciting party and we have a very exciting time. We've got a hurricane, we've got a baby, we've got all this stuff. And we're just having fun with all the different turns and we just don't know what's happening next.
SIEGEL: Next, in fact, will be speeches from Joe Lieberman, Fred Thompson and by video, President Bush. A lot of Republicans might prefer fewer twists and turns, less plot, something that might actually be more conventional here at the convention in St. Paul.
This is Robert Siegel.