Sarah Palin, cloistered since her surprise pick as the Republican Party's vice presidential candidate, symbolically butted in Wednesday night and answered her first question from a member of the public since joining the ticket.
The Alaska governor, appearing at a town hall with GOP presidential nominee John McCain, interrupted him, saying: "John, John, can I add something?"
McCain, smiling, replied: "Always."
Palin argued that McCain's support for sending thousands more U.S. troops to Iraq put the country on the cusp of victory and was freeing it to focus elsewhere in its battle against terrorists.
"We must win there so that we can win in Afghanistan also," Palin said. "He knows how to win a war."
During the more than hourlong session in a steamy gymnasium at Grand Rapids Community College, Palin also:
- Rejected those who question whether she can balance being a mother of five, including a newborn with Down syndrome, with being vice president.
"Let's prove 'em wrong," Palin told her questioner.
Palin noted that she was pregnant as governor and carried out her duties. She also lauded the symbolism of McCain choosing her as his running, which he did after Democratic rival Barack Obama decided against Hillary Rodham Clinton and chose Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden as his No. 2.
"This is the maverick who would have even chosen such a candidate to partner up, and this is the party that embraces the change and the promise that America and American women are craving and deserving," Palin said.
- Credited Title IX, landmark legislation that bars gender bias in athletics and other education programs, with fueling her athletic achievements. Palin was point guard on her championship Alaska high school basketball team.
Palin said just as Title IX transformed sports, if there is a need for a similar program in the workplace, "then we're there." McCain himself was less committal, saying existing laws would address discrimination and ensure equal opportunity.
- Rebuffed criticism that she doesn't have enough foreign policy experience to assume the presidency, if necessary.
"If you want specifics and specific policy or countries, go ahead, you can ask me. You can even play stump-the-candidate if you want," Palin challenged her questioner.
McCain stepped in to note that she had negotiated with oil companies for a massive natural gas pipeline, is commander of the Alaska National Guard and has a son, Track, who is deploying for Army service in Iraq.
"I think because I'm a Washington outsider, opponents are going to be looking for a whole lot of things that they can criticize," Palin said.
She said that by Inauguration Day in January, "Certainly we'll be ready, I'll be ready. I have that confidence."
- Traded quips with McCain when asked if she had persuaded him to support oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
"I'm still working on that," Palin said. As the audience laughed, McCain joked, "This town hall meeting is adjourned."
Palin also criticized President Bush or Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman for recently traveling to Saudi Arabia to ask OPEC to increase oil production to help reduce skyrocketing U.S. gasoline prices.
The governor said she was "disappointed" by the actions, adding: "That's nonsense, when we have the domestic supplies here in America."
Earlier Wednesday, Palin sat down for her second television interview since her selection on Aug. 29.
She said in an interview airing on Fox News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes" that Democrats were out of bounds for criticizing McCain after he said the fundamentals of the economy are strong.
"It was an unfair attack on the verbiage that Sen. McCain chose to use because the fundamentals, as he was having to explain afterward, he means our work force, he means the ingenuity of the American people. And of course, that is strong and that is the foundation of our economy," she said.
Obama and his fellow Democrats have been hammering McCain for maintaining Monday that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong" even as Wall Street spiraled downward. By that afternoon, with the markets falling amid other bad financial news, McCain had adopted a more dire tone. He now is calling the financial woes "one of the most severe crises in modern times."
Palin also said she watched Tina Fey impersonate her last weekend on "Saturday Night Live" — but only with the volume turned off.
"I thought it was hilarious. I thought she was spot on," Palin said. "Didn't hear a word she said, but the visual, spot on." She said people in Alaska have remarked on the similarities for years, and that she once dressed as Fey for Halloween.