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Defiant Palin comes out swinging

McCain's running mate shakes off controversy and mocks Obama in her speech introducing herself to the nation.

September 04, 2008|Mark Z. Barabak | Times Staff Writer

ST. PAUL, MINN. — Sarah Palin, who vaulted from obscurity to controversy as the Republican candidate for vice president, cast herself Wednesday night as a reformer and a fighter, gleefully tearing into Democrat Barack Obama.

Making her prime-time TV debut, the Alaska governor mixed a homey account of domestic life in the frontier wilderness with barbed attacks that left no doubt about her relish for political combat.

"This is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform -- not even in the state Senate," she said of the Democrats' presidential nominee. "This is a man who can give an entire speech about the wars America is fighting and never use the word 'victory' except when he's talking about his own campaign."

She mocked the elaborate stage set of Obama's acceptance speech last week and the presidential-type seal his campaign used once, pressing GOP assertions that Obama's candidacy is little more than a vainglorious tilt at celebrity.

"When the cloud of rhetoric has passed, when the roar of the crowd fades away, when the stadium lights go out and those Styrofoam Greek columns are hauled back to some studio lot, what exactly is our opponent's plan?" she asked, to a roar from delegates at the Republican National Convention. "What does he actually seek to accomplish, after he's done turning back the waters and healing the planet? The answer is to make government bigger, take more of your money, give you more orders from Washington and to reduce the strength of America in a dangerous world."

Greeted by a thunderous ovation lasting nearly three minutes, Palin sought to turn recent negative publicity to her advantage, casting herself as a victim of hostile reporters and a scornful Washington establishment. "Here's a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators," she said. "I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion. I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this great country."

She defended her relative lack of political experience -- four years as mayor of the small town of Wasilla and less than two years as Alaska governor -- by swiping at Obama and one of his first jobs out of college. "Since our opponents in the presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves," Palin said of her years at City Hall. "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities."

She also took after Obama for his unguarded remark at a San Francisco fundraiser that small-town Americans, embittered by tough times, seek refuge in guns and religion. "We tend to prefer candidates who don't talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco," she said.

She vouched for McCain in a series of laudatory passages. Looking into the TV cameras, she urged Americans: "Take the maverick of the Senate and put him in the White House."

Virtually unknown outside of Alaska a week ago, Palin was the unquestioned star on the third night of the hurricane-shortened convention. Delegates cheered her long and lustily, a stark contrast to the media hazing she has faced amid embarrassing personal and political revelations.

Afterward, she was joined onstage by her family and, unexpectedly, McCain, who was drowned out with affirmative cheers when he hollered, "Don't you think we made the right choice for the next vice president of the United States? And what a beautiful family!"

At the end of the night, after TV's prime time, McCain was formally nominated in a suspense-free roll call vote.

Before Palin took the stage, the McCain campaign was on the offense. Steve Schmidt, McCain's chief strategist, issued a statement saying officials would no longer answer questions about the vice presidential selection process, suggesting reporters were out to "destroy the first female Republican nominee." Hours later, a group of GOP women held a contentious news conference in which they accused the media of unfair and sexist reporting.

"So many women around this country appreciate the way that Sarah Palin brings a broad and very diverse footing and foundation of experience to play," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. "Every woman in this room knows that if you can handle being a room mother . . . a PTA chairman, a Girl Scout cookie mom, there are a lot of things you have the ability, the organizational skills to handle."

McCain, who has pursued the GOP presidential nomination for nearly a decade, arrived Wednesday to claim his prize. Bounding off his chartered 737, he was greeted by the McCain and Palin families. Also on hand was Levi Johnston, 18, the fiance of Bristol Palin, the governor's 17-year-old pregnant daughter. McCain hugged Bristol, then put his arms around the young couple.

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