Palin defies critics and electrifies party

Posted in United States | 04-Sep-08 | Author: Elisabeth Bumiller and Michael| Source: International Herald Tribune

Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska at day three of the Republican National Convention.

ST. PAUL: Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska introduced herself to America before a roaring crowd at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night as "just your average hockey mom" who was as qualified as the Democratic nominee, Senator Barack Obama, to be president of the United States.

Moments later Senator John McCain, a scrappy, rebellious former prisoner of war in Vietnam whose campaign was resurrected from near-death a year ago, was nominated by the Republican Party to be the 44th president of the United States after asking delegates, "Do you think we made the right choice" in picking Palin as the vice-presidential nominee?

The roll-call vote makes McCain, 72, the first Republican presidential candidate to share the ticket with a woman and only the second presidential candidate from a major party to do so, after Walter Mondale selected Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate for the Democratic ticket in 1984.

But the nomination was a sideshow to the evening's main spectacle, the speech by the little-known Palin, a 44-year-old mother of five who was seeking to wrest back the narrative of her life and redefine herself to the American public after a rocky start that has put McCain's closest aides on edge.

"Before I became governor of the great state of Alaska, I was mayor of my hometown," Palin told the ecstatic delegates in a speech that eviscerated Obama. "And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves. I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities."

As the crowd cheered its approval, Palin went on: "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."

Palin was referring to Obama's experience as a community organizer in Chicago before he served in the Illinois legislature and was elected to the United States Senate in 2004 as well as comments he made at a fundraiser in California about bitter rural voters who "cling" to guns and religion.

The address by Palin, whose selection last week by McCain to be his running mate stunned the political world, took place before a convention transformed from an orderly coronation into a messy, days-long drama since the McCain campaign's disclosure on Monday that Palin's 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, was pregnant.

Since then there have been a host of distractions, including Hurricane Gustav, questions about how thoroughly McCain vetted what people close to his campaign have called the last-minute pick of Palin, and charges from McCain's top aides that the media has launched a sexist smear campaign against his running mate.

"I'm not a member of the permanent political establishment," Palin said in her remarks. which took aim at the media establishment to great shouts of approval from the delegates. "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 ? I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this country."

Palin spent the first part of her speech introducing her family one by one to the crowd, including her husband, Todd. "We met in high school, and two decades and five children later he's still my guy," Palin said. During her remarks, one of the younger of Palin's children was captured on television cameras holding the four-and-a-half month baby, Trig, and stroking his head.

Palin's speech was the big draw of a convention night notable for not a single mention from the podium of the unpopular president, George W. Bush, who addressed the delegates for eight minutes via satellite from the White House on Tuesday after Gustav forced him to cancel his appearance.

Palin's speech came after former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York launched a withering attack on Obama as part of a relentless assault by Republicans arguing that Palin, the former mayor of a town of less than7,000 people who has been governor of Alaska for 20 months, had a more impressive résumé than Obama.

"She already has more executive experience than the entire Democratic ticket," said Giuliani, one of three former rivals of McCain for the nomination, including former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, who took on Obama in evening speeches to the convention.

"Barack Obama has never led anything, nothing, nada," Giuliani added, then launched an attack on people who have questioned whether Palin will have enough energy to focus on the vice presidency as the mother of five. "How dare they question whether Sarah Palin has enough time to spend with her children and be vice president," Giuliani said. "How dare they do that? When do they ever ask a man that question?

The criticism of Obama reinforced new television commercials by the McCain campaign that similarly belittled the Democratic nominee's experience. The campaign and its surrogates also took on what they called biased and sexist coverage of Palin.

Palin's speech was the first public emergence for Palin since arriving here Sunday, two days after McCain named her as his running mate. Palin has spent her time in a hotel suite with her husband, Todd, and their five children preparing for her speech and the questions on foreign policy, national security and family matters that she will face from the media when the McCain campaign makes her available to reporters. Their son Track, 19, deploys overseas for the army next month.

Democrats, who have held much of their fire this week as the Republican melodrama has played out in Minnesota, criticized the convention for failing so far to address the concerns of ordinary Americans.

"You did not hear a single world about the economy," Obama told an audience on Wednesday in New Philadelphia, Ohio, before Palin's speech. "Not once did they mention the hardships that people are going through."

McCain landed in Minneapolis on Wednesday afternoon and was greeted on the tarmac by Palin, her family and his family in a striking multigenerational tableau, 16 strong, with the youngest member Trig Palin, Sarah Palin's 4-month-old, who has Down syndrome. Later, in his appearance at the convention, he praised the Palins as "a beautiful family."

In her address, Palin criticized Obama on foreign policy and national security issues as she tried to display comfort on those areas. She also embraced one of McCain's favorite mantras this summer, "drill now," a call for more offshore oil exploration as a solution to record-high gasoline prices.

Delegates said they were enthralled by Palin's speech. "I think she's great - she's giving it back to the democrats for all the sorry things they've said about her and about america," said Anita Bargas, a delegate from Angleton, Texas. "She's a conservative - and she has a great sense of humor."

"Our opponents say, again and again, that drilling will not solve all of America's energy problems, as if we all didn't know that already," Palin said. "But the fact that drilling won't solve every problem is no excuse to do nothing at all. Starting in January, in a McCain-Palin administration, we're going to lay more pipelines, build more nuclear plants, create jobs with clean coal and move forward on solar, wind, geothermal and other alternative sources."

With Palin facing a torrent of media inquiries, McCain joined other Republicans in assailing news outlets when he told ABC News in an interview on Wednesday that "Sarah Palin has 24,000 employees in the state government" and was "responsible for 20 percent of the nation's energy supply." He added that he was entertained by the comparison of her experience to that of Obama and that "I hope we can keep making that comparison that running a political campaign is somehow comparable to being the executive of the largest state in America."