By DeWayne Wickham
DENVER - Thursday night belonged to Barack Obama, but on Friday morning, the edge went to John McCain.
Standing before a cheering throng of 85,000 people inside Invesco Field, Obama sounded like a chief executive and was received like a rock star when he accepted the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.
"We meet at one of those defining moments, a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more," the Illinois senator said. "Tonight, more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less."
Then he drew a thunderous standing ovation with these words: "America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than that."
But the euphoria of that moment was dashed as dawn broke Friday and news leaked that McCain had selected Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate.
That surprise choice of the 44-year-old mother of five put gender back on the 2008 election radar. And for the Obama campaign, this is not a good thing.
In defeating HIllary Clinton for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, the Obama campaign alienated many female supporters of the New York senator and former first lady. Coming into the Democratic convention, nearly 30 percent of these women said they planned to vote for McCain.
But when Clinton made an impassioned plea during a Tuesday night keynote address for her supporters to vote for Obama, Democrats thought they had largely put the gender problem behind them.
New York Gov. David Paterson told me during an interview that the party's gender wounds were on the mend.
The lingering reluctance of women who sided with Clinton to support Obama was a response to a long history of women being denied political opportunity by both Republicans and Democrats, Paterson said. And while Democrats have done a better job of sharing power with women in recent years, he said, the bruising primary battles between Obama and Clinton upset a lot of Democratic women.
"They know they don't want John McCain, but they just inwardly feel, 'When is this party going to recognize us? When are they going to stop having an old boys' network?' And it gets taken out on Barack Obama," Paterson explained.
Clinton's speech, the governor said, did a lot to heal that breach - or so it seemed. But now that McCain has made Palin his running mate, I think those old wounds will fester - and maybe even explode.
Up until the moment Obama named Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware his running mate, Clinton's supporters were urging him to give her the job. The 18 million votes she won in the primaries (more than Obama's total), they said, amounted to 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling that limits opportunities for women.
By picking Clinton, they argued, Obama would create a Democratic Party "Dream Team" that Republicans would find hard to beat. Those hopes were derailed with Biden's selection. But Clinton's strong embrace of Obama in her convention address was thought to have done a lot to heal the party's gender wounds.
Now, as the presidential spotlight moves to the Republican's convention in St. Paul, Minn., the GOP has knocked a good bit of the luster off of Obama's history-making appearance in Denver.
Instead of leaving this Rocky Mountain city on the offensive, the Obama campaign has been put on the defensive by McCain, whose selection of a female running mate proves that the old Navy pilot still knows how to take the fight to the enemy.