STEPHEN HENDERSON Palin rises to her place in history with speech Speech highlights warmth, toughness September 4, 2008 Sarah Palin rose to her convention moment with the toughness and vigor that has forged her reputation in Alaska -- and she did it with a brilliant mix of warm efforts to relate to the struggles faced by most American families and sharp attacks on the Democratic nominee, Barack Obama. Did she answer all the questions that loom about her? Not by a long shot. The campaign trail has already proved brutal -- on Palin's inexperience and some of the chinks in her armor, including some pretty stark flip-flops. She won't prove in the next two months that she has experienced enough to be next in line for the presidency. But in her speech Wednesday night in Minneapolis, Palin proved that if her time in politics has been short, her approach to it and her conviction and purpose are not to be underestimated. That was the best Republicans could hope for, given the pounding Palin has taken (some of it unfair, but much of it grounded in the real shock of her inexperience) since her candidacy was announced. She showed a firm grasp of key domestic issues, including energy independence and tax policy. Perhaps most important, she related strongly to working-class families, often with an easy humor that almost certainly connected with key demographics. "What's the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull?" Palin asked in one of her more memorable lines. "Lipstick." She talked about the PTA and small-town city council. She took note of her oldest son, who'll deploy to Iraq in a few weeks, something families all across the nation can relate to. And she took strong issue with the dismissive comments about her stint as a small-town mayor. "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities," she said. Palin styled herself in her speech as a reform-minded public servant who'll bring a down-home kind of common sense to Washington. We've heard that before from politicians, but somehow it seemed more believable coming from someone whose political career has been so remote, and really sort of an after-thought to a life built around other purposes. She smartly pointed to her record of bringing reform to the political cesspool of Alaska -- championing ethics legislation, selling off the governor's luxury jet and stopping the famous Bridge to Nowhere -- even if she was for it earlier. She was effective in pointing out the weaknesses of the policies embraced by the Democratic ticket, and relating them to troubles that real people face. "The Democratic nominee for president supports plans to raise income taxes, raise payroll taxes, raise investment income taxes, raise the death tax, raise business taxes and increase the tax burden on the American people by hundreds of billions of dollars," she said. "My sister Heather and her husband have just built a service station that's now opened for business -- like millions of others who run small businesses. How are you going to be better off if our opponent adds a massive tax burden to the American economy?" Facing down that kind of criticism, especially from someone as effective in delivering it as Palin was, will prove the major challenge for the Democrats this fall. Palin summed up the difference Republicans want to emphasize between Obama and McCain with a perfect, pointed phrase. "For a season, a gifted speaker can inspire with his words. For a lifetime, John McCain has inspired with his deeds." Adding Palin to the ticket was a huge risk that still might haunt Republicans for years. Her inexperience is important. She deftly avoided any mention of foreign policy in her speech, probably because she hasn't yet been briefed on half of what she should know. But anyone who thought her selection marked certain doom for McCain, or a certain win for the Democrats, was proven wrong Wednesday night in Minneapolis.