It’s been about three years since I first heard the name Sarah Palin. I remember my Human Events co-worker, John Gizzi, opining on the former Alaska Governor’s long shot chances at the Vice-Presidency in early 2008. She wasn’t even really on the short list. Then, I heard she was pregnant and completely ruled her out in favor of Tim Pawlenty. I figured no one with a newborn would even consider such a spot.

I remember where I was when Sen. John McCain announced Palin as his VP runningmate. I sat in my spacious office overlooking the Pomotac in Alexandria, Virginia — working for the now-defunct, My friend and co-worker, Jillian Bandes, and I, were the only women on staff. She seemed excited while I was more skeptical – and have remained so since that day.

After watching her on a million YouTube clips, TV interviews and reading endless op/eds analyzing her, her supporters, her symbolism – I finally got see Sarah Palin in the flesh today. I criticized her decision not to attend the largest conservative conference in American earlier this year – CPAC – but I’m glad she decided to speak here at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference (SRLC). I can’t deny the sparkle that infused the air when she took the stage.

I thought I might “get” Palinmania once and for all. And I kind of did. She didn’t miss a beat, blazing genuine excitement to be in the “Big Easy” and calling everyone “friends.” She applauded the inspiring survivors of Hurricane Katrina and thanked New Orleans for a warm welcome. Her red blazer, perfect Palin hair, glasses and stature were right on, especially when she accidentally uttered “shoot” and called herself out. She’s cute and she knows how to work it.

She didn’t shy away from shaking up her public clash with President Obama regarding nuclear weapons. The president recently said Palin was “no expert” on nuclear weapons and she reminded us that his experience as a community organizer didn’t lend much expertise either. That surely got the national news networks geared up to stoke the flames. I love that she just addressed it head on.

She jumped right into straightforward criticism regarding the Obama Administration’s tendency to “coddle our enemies while alienating our allies.” From released remarks:

In foreign policy, we’ve got the makings of the Obama Doctrine: coddling our enemies while alienating allies.

The administration eased sanctions on Cuba and sided with Chavez against Honduran democracy. They won’t bring up human rights with China because, quote, ‘we know what they are going to say.’ They offer tepid sanctions on North Korea and ‘gold stars and cookies’ for the Sudanese President. They send letters to Iranian mullahs but can barely muster a word of support for the Green Movement seeking freedom and women’s rights in Iran!

And President Obama, with all that vast nuclear expertise he acquired as a community organizer, a part-time senator, and a candidate for president, has accomplished nothing to date with Iran or North Korea.

She was informed, she was solid and in her prime, in a bursting ballroom of what seemed like fans. She delved into a true area of comfort for her – energy policy, shouting the oft-repeated mantra, “Drill baby Drill.” She followed that with a line of gold: “There is nothing stopping us from achieving energy independence that a good old fashioned election can’t fix!” The audience loved that – and so did I.

I snuck closer to stage to get a Twitpic — pushing past cameras from Fox News and more to get the shot. This was the woman I’ve praised and criticized, who has changed the trajectory of politics and inspired thousands of conservative women to rise up in their own regard. I could tell I’d want to call her “Sarah” and that she was truly in her element up there on the stage. A dash of snarky, a handful of confidence and finely written speech aided in a fantastic Palin appearance.

After closing remarks, the room was loud with applause and chants of “Sarah! Sarah!” She waved like an adored star, stopping to sign autographs, shake hands and relish another moment being America’s conservative sweetheart. I don’t get the feeling there will be a Palin 2012 run, as her speech sounded more like a comfortable chat than a candidate’s rant. Either way, experiencing Palin in person confirmed the many rumors of her down-to-earth charm and ability to invigorate.

This blog first published on Right Wing News.

FREE: Simple Faith Practices for Busy MomsYes, please!