Palin fires back with speech

ST. PAUL, Minn. She introduced herself to the nation as Ariz. Sen. John McCain's running mate and fellow maverick.

She also talked about her family but did not mention the pregnancy of her teenage daughter.

The process to nominate McCain as the Republican Party's presidential candidate then began. That includes the roll call of the states.

It is the speech that the convention hall and millions of Americans had been waiting to hear. At this time a week ago, the name Sarah Palin was unfamiliar to most people. Now, that name got a national face and voice.

"Don't you think we made the right choice for the next president of the United States," said McCain as he joined Palin onstage after her address.

"I had the privilege of living most of my life in a small town. I was just an average hockey mom and signed up for the PTA because I wanted to make my kids' public education better," Palin said.

And now Palin is a candidate for vice president of the United States.

"I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion, I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this country," she said.

The 44-year-old mother of five has dealt with family issues all week.

"I've learned quickly these past few days that if you are not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone," Palin said. "But here's a little news flash for all of 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 took direct shots at the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama on the experience issue and on energy policy.

"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities," said Palin. "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. But the fact that drilling won't solve every problem is no excuse to do nothing at all."

She even talked about change.

"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," Palin said.

So Palin delivered punches to the Obama camp and told the country why McCain should be the next president.

The night was full of other big name speakers, all men who wanted to be nominated for president who now say McCain is the man for that job.

"We have a prescription for every American who wants change in Washington -- throw out the liberal government in Washington and elect John McCain and Sarah Palin," said Mitt Romney.

"And speaking of Governor Palin, I am so tired of hearing about her lack of experience. I wanna tell you folks something. She got more votes for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, than Joe Biden did running for president," said Mike Huckabee.

"Change is not a destination. Hope is not a strategy," said Rudy Giuliani.

Wednesday's preparations

Palin spent Wednesday preparing to deliver a make or break speech that introduced her to the American public. She attempted to convince voters she has enough experience to be the country's vice president.

The Xcel Center was abuzz Wednesday afternoon in anticipation of what would be the biggest night yet of the RNC.

Palin greeted McCain after his campaign plane landed in Minneapolis just after noon Wednesday. There was an embrace and then McCain refocused his attention on 17-year-old Bristol Palin, who's five months pregnant, standing beside the baby's father, Levi Johnston, 18, who she said she plans to marry. It was the first picture of the Republican ticket and their families.

Earlier Wednesday, just after 6 a.m., the Alaska governor checked out the podium and stage.

"It's important for the convention. This place is going to light up. There's so much excitement about her. She has energized the party, the convention. And she's going to energize America," said Douglass Holtz-Akin, McCain senior policy advisor.

And while the Republican delegation planned to officially nominate McCain as their candidate for president after Palin's speech, they did not officially nominate her.

"We've juggled things so much, the script is gone," Holtz-Akin said. "She will be nominated. He will be nominated and off we will go to campaign for the next 60 days."

Palin has electrified the McCain camp since she was announced as the running mate Friday. And some Illinois voters in St. Paul, especially women, said they are happy to see a woman finally on a Republican ticket.

"And just a small town, a woman from a small town can do this so it gives me something to look forward to," said Meagan Szydlowski, Illinois College Republican Federation.

"This is the most important speech she will ever make in her life but important for the Republican Party so she can define who she is, what her life is, why she wants to do this and also what she can be able to do for the American people," said former House Speaker and Ill. Rep. Dennis Hastert. "And I think people have to identify and understand what she's about. I think she represents kind of the quintessential American family, not a lot of tinsel on that family. The kids aren't going Ivy League schools. The son gets out of high school and joins the Army to serve his nation."

Hastert added that Sarah Palin's husband has two jobs to support the family and that many voters will identify with the family and some of the typical problems that the Palin family has.

"You have to kind of react and see how people pull together, and it happens in your family, it happens in your church. It happens in your neighborhood where your kids go school," Hastert said. "I think people identify and there's an identity there."

Hastert said it's fair to wonder whether a woman can lead the country, considering McCain's age of 72.

"She has been an executive in government for several years. If you look at Obama, if you look at Biden, you look at John McCain, none of them have actually run a government. And she's dealt with a legislature and taken on the establishment," Hastert said. "She's taken on big oil companies. She's built a pipeline. This is something that is very, very difficult to do. And she's had success doing it."

Hastert said he would advise her to open up and be the real Sarah Palin so people can identify and see her and get to know her.

"And I think the whole nation wants to see who this lady is and what she's really all about. They're tired of hearing the pundits take cracks at her and here's her great chance," Hastert said.

"Let's give her a chance to explain herself. And I think she's going to do a fine job," said Giuliani.

Sarah Palin was spending the day in a Hilton hotel, preparing for her speech. And as the excitement built for her appearance, female delegates said they were charged up to vote for a woman.

"A woman that has children, especially with what's going on with her daughter, a lot of women can relate to that. So you will find a lot of women jumping over that may not have," said Denise Johns, New York delegate.

Media were not allowed into an event Wednesday afternoon to help hurricane relief victims because officials said McCain was the special guest inside. It was McCain's first stop since he arrived in the Twin Cities.

"It makes a difference because it shows accessibility to the office," said Susan Wefald, North Dakota delegate.

The power of the female vote is apparent. Tammy Owens came to support Mike Huckabee, but with Palin on the ticket, she said she's going for McCain.

"It will bring some balance to the ticket and balance out what I see as more liberal tendencies in Senator McCain," said Owens, a North Dakota delegate.

"I think she just brings that extra bling. And she's provided some real excitement. Many of us were excited before but having this on the ticket, we're raring to go," said Betsy Werronen, District of Columbia delegate.

Former Ill. state treasurer Judy Baar Topinka said Palin has to sell herself and reinvent what she is to the entire United States.

"Everything that the people of Alaska have thought and felt about her to elect her governor… she will have to prove that to the rest of the United States and prove she is up to being vice president. And I think she can do it," said Baar Topinka.

Baar Topinka said she believes the selection of Palin is important to women, independents and Democrats who might cross over parties.

"First of all, there's a bunch of disaffected Hillary (Clinton) voters out there, whether they will come over I don't know. If they don't they may stay home because they are disaffected and they don't like the way Hillary was treated," Baar Topinka said. "The Democrats did not do a very good job on dealing with the X-Y chromosome of their party. I think we've done a lot better. The fact that John McCain reached out to get a woman to run for vice president, I think it's daring. I think it's bold. I think it's courageous and she's gutsy. And she's very much like him. She will be a good partner."

Illinois delegation offers Palin advice

The Illinois delegation has a little of everything, including big political winners like:

  • four-term governor Jim Thompson
  • two-termer Jim Edgar
  • former house speaker Hastert

Republicans who didn't make it to the top, like:

  • Baar Topinka
  • business executive Ron Gidwitz, who ran unsuccessfully for governor

And a lot of wannabes, like:

  • Senator Dick Durbin's opponent, Dr. Steve Sauerberg,
  • congressional candidate Antoine Members
  • fiscal expert Miriam Shabo, who is running for the state legislature

They've been watching Palin closely as she became McCain's surprise running mate and an instant magnet for controversy over family matters including a pregnant daughter and political disputes back home. But Wednesday night was her turn to tell her story her way, uninterrupted and unfiltered. And there was a lot of unsolicited advice of her Illinois supporters from the top and the bottom of the political world.

"Be as open and candid as she can possibly be. The only way to present your side of the story," said Thompson.

"It's about being a human being. That's a consciousness. And I believe this nation is ready for that type of leader," said Members.

"She has to define herself. She has to sell herself to the public as a very competent person. I mean, they don't know somebody from Alaska," said Baar Topinka.

"Anybody who's had five children and think(s) they're going to get through life without a little bit of trial and trauma is mistaken. I've got two, and I can tell you I couldn't even make it through that without a little trauma," said Sauerberg

"The challenge is just to get her story out there. And this other stuff will fall by the wayside, I think," said Hastert

"Anybody who is a mother deserves to be in power. They know how to manage," said Shabo

"She's got to hit the ball out of the park. She can't make any mistakes," said Gidwitz

GOP leaders line up to defend the first-term Alaska governor.

The Arizona senator's campaign set the tone for the day early with a written statement that stood out for its admission that Palin is under siege -- it condemned "this vetting controversy" -- and for its attempt to blunt questions about how rigorously McCain and his campaign explored the background of a candidate who may get the nation's second most powerful job. It also suggested that Palin is a victim of gender bias in the media

"This nonsense is over," senior campaign adviser Steve Schmidt declared in the statement, lashing out at "the old boys' network" that he says runs media organizations. "The McCain campaign will have no further comment about our long and thorough process," Schmidt said.

With a quickly arranged news conference and a fresh television ad, McCain's team also sought to counter Democratic criticism that Palin is too inexperienced to be president -- the same argument the soon-to-be GOP nominee and his Republicans have used against Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. The efforts indicated advisers are concerned the criticism may be taking a toll on her image.

Surrounded by fellow Republican women, former Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift bemoaned "an outrageous smear campaign" against Palin and said: "She is more prepared than Barack Obama to be president of the United States."

The new McCain TV commercial quotes a Wall Street Journal editorial that says: "Governor Palin's credentials as an agent of reform exceed Barack Obama's and that she has 'earned a reputation as a reformer' and 'has a record of bipartisan reform."' Conversely, the ad says, Obama offers only "empty words." It's set to run in key states.

Obama's campaign spokesman Bill Burton hit back. He lauded Palin's "compelling personal story" and oratory abilities but also challenged her to "explain her reformer credentials." Said Burton: "What the American people will be looking for is whether she can explain how the economic agenda offered by her and John McCain won't just be more of the same Bush policies."

McCain shook up the presidential race last Friday by picking Palin, a little-known governor less than two years in office. Since then, a bright spotlight has been trained on the life and record of the self-styled "hockey mom" who has bucked the state's political establishment.

Other disclosures have surfaced, including that a private attorney is authorized to spend $95,000 of state money to defend her against accusations of abuse of power and that Palin sought pork-barrel projects for her city and state, contrary to her reformist image.

None of the revelations seem to have shaken McCain's confidence or undermined her support among GOP delegates. McCain's top advisers say they, and the candidate, were made aware of all of potential problems during what they contended was a thorough investigation of Palin by McCain's search team members.

Top McCain advisers said they welcome and expect a review of Palin's mayoral and gubernatorial record but that the media went beyond that.

"Certainly, her record deserves scrutiny, but I think we ought to look at her record," campaign manager Rick Davis told reporters on a conference call. He condemned "the salacious nature" of some news stories designed to "throw dirt at our candidate." He urged the media to "dial it back."

At the same time, Davis called for the same level of scrutiny on Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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