People watch tightrope walkers because they might fall and splatter on the ground, and when they reach the end of the line safely, there is a great release of tension.

So it is with tonight’s prime-time acceptance speech by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, picked by Republican presidential candidate John McCain to be his running mate.

One of the most anticipated political speeches in memory will begin to answer whether McCain’s gamble on the unknown chief executive of a sparsely populated and remote state was wise.

Palin, 44, was chosen in part for her demographic pedigree - working mother of five; evangelical Christian, NRA member, hunter – but also for her toughness. “She’s a chick with a Y chromosome,” a prominent GOP strategist said. Palin was bitterly opposed by her party’s leaders when she ran for governor, mostly on the theme that they were slime balls. McCain, it is said, was reminded of his own maverick side when he met Palin and, not incidentally, wanted to revive that image after spending the last eight years kissing up to the GOP establishment to win the nomination.

She takes the stage tonight amid a series of embarrassing revelations and questions about her background. Yesterday, the McCain campaign had to produce voter-registration documents in an attempt to prove that Palin was not, as reported by some outlets, a member of the separatist Alaskan Independence Party. It also appears that she flip-flopped on the infamous $400 million “Bridge to Nowhere.” Palin takes credit for opposing that pork now, but supported the project when she ran for governor.

And then, of course, the news that Palin’s 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, was pregnant. She and her husband had to release that news bulletin because liberal bloggers had widely speculated that her infant son, Trig, was really her grandson. Bristol is marrying the teen father and keeping the baby, her family said.

Stay tuned.

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