Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, in her first real introduction to the American people as Sen. John McCain’s running mate, struck back Wednesday night at news organizations and a “Washington elite” that have raised questions about her qualifications to be vice president.
As Palin accepted the vice presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., her experience — she has been mayor of tiny Wasilla, Alaska, and has served as Alaska’s governor for less than two years — was front and center in voters’ minds. Palin’s personal life has also become a topic of discussion after she revealed that her 17-year-old unmarried daughter was pregnant .
Palin acknowledged that she had not been in politics for long, calling herself “just your average hockey mom [who] signed up for the PTA because I wanted to make my kids’ public education better.”
But in a speech that connected strongly with delegates who interrupted her numerous times with standing ovations, she dismissed critics of her background as snobs who looked down on ordinary Americans and their concerns.
“I’m not a member of the permanent political establishment,” Palin said. “And I’ve learned quickly these past few days that if you’re not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone.
“But here’s a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I’m not going to Washington to seek their good opinion,” she said. “I’m going to Washington to serve the people of this country.”
Continuing a relatively recent tradition, McCain surprised the crowd by joining Palin on stage after her address.
McCain praises Palin; Democrats fire back
“Don’t you think we made the right choice for the next vice president of the United States?” asked McCain, who was formally nominated for president after the speeches and was to give his formal acceptance speech Thursday night.
The campaign said Palin co-wrote her address with Matthew Scully, who has written for McCain and previously for President Bush. The Obama campaign picked up on that fact in its brief response, which it released during the roll call of the states that was making McCain’s nomination official.
“The speech that Governor Palin gave was well delivered, but it was written by George Bush's speechwriter and sounds exactly like the same divisive, partisan attacks we’ve heard from George Bush for the last eight years,” the campaign said in a statement.
“If Governor Palin and John McCain want to define ‘change’ as voting with George Bush 90 percent of the time, that’s their choice, but we don’t think the American people are ready to take a 10 percent chance on change.”
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Palin takes fight to Obama
Palin, 44, contrasted her experience as a self-described “small-town mayor” with that of the Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.
“Since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves,” Palin said. “I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities.”
Palin did not mention Obama by name, but her target was obvious: Obama began his political life as a community organizer.
“I might add that in small towns, we don’t quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren’t listening,” she said, alluding to an early gaffe by Obama during the primary campaign, when he suggested that working-class Americans tended to “cling to religion and guns” in tough times.
Swiping at Obama’s campaign theme, Palin added:
“Here’s how I look at the choice Americans face in this election. In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers. And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change. ...
“There is only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you, in places where winning means survival and defeat means death, and that man is John McCain.”
Palin addresses controversies
The McCain campaign has lashed out at the media and called for an end to questions about Palin’s background and her family. Besides blanket coverage of her daughter’s pregnancy, Palin also is the subject of an ethics investigation involving the firing of the state’s public safety commissioner, allegedly because he would not dismiss Palin’s former brother-in-law, a state trooper.
Palin addressed those reports only in passing Wednesday night.
“From the inside, no family ever seems typical,” she said. “That’s how it is with us. Our family has the same ups and downs as any other, the same challenges and the same joys.”
But at the same time that the campaign was pressuring reporters to stop asking about her children, Palin invoked her family several times in explaining why she was proud to run on the same ticket with McCain.
Palin praised the senator as “a man who wore the uniform of this country for 22 years and refused to break faith with those troops in Iraq who have now brought victory within sight.”
“As the mother of one of those troops, that is exactly the kind of man I want as commander-in-chief,” said Palin, whose 19-year-old son, Track, is a soldier scheduled to deploy to Iraq next week.
“I’m just one of many moms who will say an extra prayer each night for our sons and daughters going into harm’s way.”
And she spoke at length about her infant son, Trig, who was born in April with Down syndrome.
“Sometimes, even the greatest joys bring challenge, and children with special needs inspire a special love,” Palin said.
“To the families of special-needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters,” she said. “I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House.’’
McCain gives Palins a warm welcome
Anticipation of Palin’s address overshadowed McCain’s arrival Wednesday in St. Paul, where he was to be formally nominated for president after the speeches.
Even before McCain’s plane landed at noon, his campaign struck back heatedly at persistent questions about Palin, declaring that “this nonsense is over.”
Palin was waiting at the airport to greet McCain as he stepped off his blue-and-white plane, dubbed the Straight Talk Express. McCain moved down a line of family and friends with handshakes and greetings before he got to Palin. They hugged, and McCain talked with her family.
Levi Johnston, the boyfriend of Palin’s pregnant 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, got a pat on the shoulder, as well as a handshake. McCain told Bristol Palin that he was sorry for what she was going through because of the “intrusion of the media,” Steve Schmidt, a senior campaign adviser, told NBC News.
At precisely the same time Obama was in the middle of a campaign speech in Ohio. The dual scene was captured in split-screen television shots.
“More jobs are being shipped overseas,” Obama said. “More and more people are losing their pensions. They just don’t get it,” he said of McCain and Palin.
Former McCain rivals target Obama votes
Wednesday night’s speakers also include a trio of former McCain rivals-turned-supporters: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Each had different tasks.
In his remarks, Romney lit into the Democrats as “the party of Big Brother,” the beginning of an old-fashioned rallying cry for traditional Republican issues like taxes, spending and defense.
Referring to forum last month at which both candidates fielded questions from Rick Warren, a prominent evangelical leader, Romney said:
“And at Saddleback, after Barack Obama dodged and ducked every direct question, John McCain hit the nail on the head: Radical Islam is evil, and he will defeat it. Republicans prefer straight talk to politically correct talk.”
Huckabee , meanwhile, cast doubt on Obama’s lack of experience and judgment in foreign policy, saying: “Maybe the most dangerous threat of an Obama presidency is that he would continue to give madmen the benefit of the doubt. If he’s wrong just once, we will pay a heavy price.”
Giuliani leads defense of Palin
Giuliani , meanwhile, took on the burden of answering the controversies over Palin’s background, which have led to widespread questions about the process that led to her selection
Saying Palin had more “executive experience than the entire Democratic ticket combined,” Giuliani said, “I’m sorry if Barack Obama thinks her hometown isn’t cosmopolitian enough.”
Earlier, Giuliani, in an interview with NBC’s TODAY show, called reporting on Palin’s daughter “indecent and disgusting.”
“Everything’s that come out is almost silly,” Giuliani said. “The whole thing with her daughter is just absurd.”
Still, the disclosure Monday that Palin’s daughter is five months pregnant — adding to a continuing drip of potentially embarrassing details — had threatened to knock the convention off message.
Obama tried to seize that opening Wednesday without piling on Palin personally. At an outdoor “town hall” meeting in New Philadelphia, Ohio, he accused Republicans of abandoning any talk of important policy issues at their convention.
“Last night when they were speaking, all these speakers came up [and] you did not hear a single word about the economy,” Obama said. “Think about it: Not once did people mention the hardships that folks are going through.”
But the official theme of the second night of the convention was foreign affairs and the “courage and service of John McCain,” not the economy. Those statements came Wednesday on the third night.
Palin led the way, boasting that in her 20 months as governor, she had given Alaska a budget surplus and delivered “nearly half a billion dollars in vetoes [of] wasteful spending.”
Romney said Americans would enjoy “expanded opportunity ... when taxes are lowered and when every citizen has affordable, portable health insurance.”
And Giuliani promised that McCain would “lower taxes so our economy can grow.”
“He will reduce government spending to strengthen our dollar,” Giuliani said. “He will expand free trade so we can be even more competitive.”
Chris Clackum, Andrea Mitchell and Kelly O’Donnell of NBC News contributed to this report.
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