FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska — Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said Friday she thinks Barack Obama regrets not making Hillary Rodham Clinton his running mate.
Palin praised Clinton’s “determination, and grit and even grace” during the Democratic primaries, sounding an altogether different note than when she suggested earlier this year that the New York senator was whining about negative press coverage and campaigning in a way that was not advancing the cause of women in politics.
“I think he’s regretting not picking her now,” Palin told ABC News.
Her comment brought a sharp rejoinder from Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, on behalf of the Obama campaign: “Sarah Palin should spare us the phony sentiment and respect. Governor Palin accused Senator Clinton of whining.”
Palin, in the second part of her first major interview since she joined the GOP ticket, also defended the nearly $200 million in federal pet projects she sought as Alaska governor this year even as John McCain told a television audience she had never requested them.
Palin was confronted in the interview with two claims that have been a staple of her reputation since joining McCain: that she was opposed to federal earmarks, even though her request for such special spending projects for 2009 was the highest per capita figure in the nation; and that she opposed the $398 million Bridge to Nowhere linking Ketchikan to an island with 50 residents and an airport.
Palin actually turned against the bridge project only after it became a national symbol of wasteful spending and Congress had pulled money for it.
Palin told ABC’s Charles Gibson that since she took office, the state had “drastically” reduced its efforts to secure earmarks and would continue to do so while she was governor.
“What I’ve been telling Alaskans for these years that I’ve been in office, is, no more,” Palin said.
When Gibson noted she had requested money to study the mating habits of crabs and harbor-seal genetic research — the kind of small-bore projects that draw McCain’s ire — Palin said the specific requests had come through universities and other public entities and weren’t worked out by lobbyists behind closed doors.
Video: Palin defends her qualifications On the Bridge to Nowhere, Palin said she had supported a link from the mainland to the airport but not necessarily the costly bridge project.
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“We killed the Bridge to Nowhere,” Palin said flatly, despite evidence she had supported the project in its early stages.
On social issues, Palin reiterated her opposition to abortion rights — parting with McCain, who supports legal abortion in cases of rape or incest. Palin would not allow those exceptions. She also said she opposes embryonic stem cell research, which McCain supports.
McCain grilled on 'The View'
Palin refused to say whether she believed homosexuality was an orientation or a choice. “I’m not one to judge,” Palin said.
Palin’s comments came after McCain sat for a feisty grilling on ABC’s “The View,” where he claimed erroneously that his running mate hadn’t sought money for federal pet projects.
“Not as governor she didn’t,” McCain said, ignoring the record.
Palin’s entry in the race has drawn support from many white women, and the McCain campaign hopes in particular that she can pull Clinton’s supporters away from Obama. It was in that spirit that she heaped praise on Obama’s defeated rival in the face of her earlier criticisms.
“What determination, and grit, and even grace through some tough shots that were fired her way — she handled those well,” Palin said.
In March, Palin was asked about coverage of Clinton at a Newsweek forum, and said: “Fair or unfair, I think she does herself a disservice to even mention it, really. I mean, you gotta plow through that. You have to know what you’re getting into ... when I hear a statement like that coming from a woman candidate with any kind of perceived whine about that excess criticism, or you know maybe a sharper microscope put on her, I think, ’That doesn’t do us any good — women in politics.”
Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, the man Obama picked for his ticket, defended Clinton this week when a voter told him it was best that he was chosen over the New York senator. Biden said Clinton “might’ve been a better pick than me.”
Palin on probe: 'There's nothing to hide'
In Alaska, meanwhile, the investigator looking into whether Palin abused her power as governor in trying to fire her former brother-in-law asked state lawmakers for the power to subpoena Palin’s husband, Todd, a dozen others and the phone records of a top aide. The state House and Senate judiciary committees were expected to grant the request.
Palin told ABC she welcomed the investigation. “There’s nothing to hide in this,” she said.
Palin was in Alaska on Friday and scheduled to attend a campaign rally in Nevada on Saturday while McCain took the day off, a reflection of her growing status as the GOP ticket’s celebrity draw.
On “The View,” McCain said that Palin had “ignited a spark” among voters but acknowledged they parted ways on certain issues. The Arizona senator has said human behavior is largely responsible for climate change and opposes drilling for oil in a federally protected refuge, for example.
McCain appeared to back off a bit from his claim that Palin was the best vice presidential pick in U.S. history when he joked, “We politicians are never given to exaggeration or hyperbole.”
The GOP hopeful also stood by two debunked campaign commercials — one which said Obama favored comprehensive sex education for kindergarten students and another that suggested Obama had called Palin a pig. Both are factually inaccurate.
Obama, as an Illinois state senator, voted for legislation that would teach age-appropriate sex education to kindergartners, including information on rejecting advances by sexual predators. And while Obama told a campaign rally this week that McCain’s policies were like “putting lipstick on a pig,” he never used the phrase in connection with Palin.
“Those ads aren’t true. They’re lies,” said “View” co-host Joy Behar.
“They’re not lies,” McCain said, insisting that Obama “chooses his words very carefully” and should never had made the lipstick remark.
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