Sarah Palin's speech last night did everything the McCain campaign wanted it to do, which is really one thing - fire up the right-wing base.
For all the talk about how poised Palin was - as if people expected her to come out and drool and speak in incomplete sentences - the core of her speech was nothing more than recycled right-wing attacks. The self-proclaimed "pitbull in lipstick" gave the base what they were looking for, and hadn't gotten from John McCain.
If the speech was about reaching undecideds, the sarcasm and attacks would have been dramatically toned down. While negative ads can have an effect on undecided and soft voters, vicious attacks coming from the candidate's mouth very rarely do. That the snide tone was intentionally called up is all the evidence you need -- McCain's campaign determined Palin's speech needed to rally the base, not win over new voters.
But there's a flipside of firing up your base with attacks -- it fires up the other side's base too. For every hardcore supporter of the radical right that was jumping up and cheering at home, there was a progressive jumping up and shouting profanity at their TV.
While it may seem that the Obama campaign has owned the battle to get the base fired up, there was a certain bit of calm among Democrats, especially with polls showing a very healthy bounce coming out of Denver. That kind of calm results in less money raised, people less motivated to get out and knock on doors, or hand out campaign lit.
Sarah Palin just lit a fire under the left.
And it's not just Obama supporters, either. As reported here on Huffington, a focus group of undecided Hillary voters had a negative reaction to Palin's speech. While she attacked Obama, who certainly isn't a favorite of those former-Hillary supporters, she also attacked and mocked the very progressive values that Hillary champions, and has been for 30 years. If Palin has nudged those voters to Obama, continued red-meat right-wing attacks from her will only serve to firm-up Hillary's supporters' resolve to defeat McCain/Palin.
It's all a very, very calculated risk, from a McCain campaign that already proved its willingness to play some Russian Roulette with the selection of Sarah Palin. If Palin can bring GOP base turnout up to the same raw vote numbers as Obama's base turnout, we've got a very real race. If she can't, and continues to fire up Obama's side, and drives Hillary supporters into his camp, then the McCain team just shot themselves in the head.