WASHINGTON — A new poll shows Republican John McCain — riding a wave of enthusiasm for his vice presidential pick Sarah Palin — pushing past Barack Obama, wiping away the advantage the first-term Illinois senator enjoyed coming out of the Democratic National Convention.
Palin, in her first term as Alaska governor and the Republican Party's first-ever female nominee for vice president, electrified last week's Republican National Convention with a sarcastic, slashing speech that denigrated Obama's readiness for the U.S. presidency and energized the deeply conservative Republican base.
Palin, who opposes abortion even in case of rape or incest, was a virtual unknown outside Alaska until McCain elevated her to the national stage as his surprise choice to join him on the Republican ticket 11 days ago.
Since the Republicans closed their convention Thursday, the two have been campaigning hard both against Obama and their own party in a bid to separate themselves from President George W. Bush, a fellow Republican who is deeply unpopular with voters of both parties.
Palin, who has shunned answering questions from journalists so far, faces a major test this week when she gives her first nationally televised interview after a week of intense press scrutiny into assertions she brings virtually no international experience to the ticket and has exaggerated her reformer credentials.
McCain's campaign has lashed out at coverage of Palin and her family, while Democrats have questioned why the candidate has not been put directly before reporters to answer questions.
McCain campaign manager Rick Davis earlier complained that the media has focused too much on 44-year-old Palin's personal life. Many of those stories came after McCain's campaign announced that Palin's unwed 17-year-old daughter was pregnant.
"Why would we want to throw Sarah Palin into a cycle of piranhas called the news media that have nothing better to ask questions about than her personal life and her children?" Davis said on Fox television. "So until at which point in time we feel like the news media is going to treat her with some level of respect and deference, I think it would be foolhardy to put her out into that kind of environment."
Gibson to grill Palin
But, McCain adviser Mark Salter later said Palin has agreed to sit down with ABC this week for her first television interview.
Salter also said Palin had not been sent out to campaign on her own because McCain enjoyed the excitement she was injecting into his campaign.
"They're having a good time. We were riding a lot of momentum coming out of the convention. The crowds were large," said Salter. "The senator himself thought they should continue on for a few days."
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Palin received some support Monday from Vice President Dick Cheney who told reporters in Rome that he "loved" Palin's speech to the Republican National Convention.
"I thought her appearance at the convention was superb," Cheney said. Asked whether he thought Palin could handle the No. 2 job under a president John McCain, he added:
"Each administration is different. And there's no reason why Sarah Palin can't be a successful vice president in a McCain administration," he added.
McCain's rise in the poll was expected, since candidates usually receive a bounce in the polls after their conventions.
The USA Today-Gallup Poll released Sunday shows he had eclipsed Obama, by four percentage points, 50 to 46. That suggests at the very least that McCain has wiped out the seven-point lead Obama posted after the Democratic convention a week earlier. The latest poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Video: Analysis Meanwhile, McCain tried to distance himself from President George W. Bush and his own party as Obama's campaign pressed its theme that a McCain presidency would offer four more years of unpopular policies.
One of McCain's challenges is to separate himself from the unpopular incumbent. The theme of change was the focus of his speech at the convention, where he promised to end "partisan rancor" — but never mentioned Bush's name.
McCain avoided talking about his 22 years as a Republican senator in Washington in an interview that aired Sunday, saying instead that he would put Democrats in his cabinet and focusing on the fact that he has been at odds with many in his own party on a range of issues from strategy in Iraq to special interest spending.
"Obviously, I was very unpopular in some parts of my own party, whether it be on the issue of climate change or against (former Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld's strategy and the president's strategy in Iraq, or whether it be on campaign finance reform or a number of other issues that I fought against the `special interests,'" McCain said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Changing stance on tax cuts
McCain supported the Bush administration's decision to attack Iraq, but was an early critic of the president's war tactics. He supported the so-called "surge," the since-withdrawn addition of 30,000 U.S. forces, calling it a success.
He was also an early opponent of Bush tax cuts, but has reversed course. His Republican primary campaign nearly collapsed last fall over his support of comprehensive immigration reform, which opponents branded "amnesty" for millions of illegal immigrants. He has since tried to make peace with critics in his party by stressing the need for border security before creating a path to citizenship.
There was no free pass from Obama's campaign.
"Voting with George Bush 90 percent of the time isn't being a maverick, it's being the president's sidekick," said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton. "The idea that John McCain represents change in Washington is as laughable as his claim that he'll take on the special interests when some of the biggest corporate lobbyists in America are running his campaign."
Obama himself jumped on McCain's new campaign theme of change, blasting him for choosing Palin, who has been praised as a maverick for taking on corruption in her own party.
McCain's choice of Palin "tells me that he chose somebody who may be even more aligned with George Bush — or (Vice President) Dick Cheney, or the politics we've seen over the last eight years — than John McCain himself is," he said Sunday on ABC television.
Obama was campaigning in the crucial swing state of Michigan on Monday. Before campaigning he took his two daughters, 10-year-old Malia and 7-year-old Sasha, to their first day of the fall school year at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. Both daughters spent some of their summer vacation on the campaign trail with their dad.
Biden was making appearances in Wisconsin and Iowa.
Palin was to be in Missouri before rejoining McCain in Ohio, both crucial states in the November election.
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