Republicans Mount Defense of Palin Ahead of Speech
By CARL HULSE, New York Times staff
September 3, 2008
ST. PAUL — Gov. Sarah Palin, who has been in virtual seclusion since arriving here on Sunday, prepared to introduce herself to much of America on Wednesday night as Republicans mounted a full-throated pre-emptive defense of the Alaska governor.
Entering their second full night of speeches, Republican leaders also promised to sharpen their arguments against Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, sending out three of Mr. McCain’s former rivals for the presidential nomination — former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — to take on the Democratic presidential nominee.
But for a party that was taken by surprise last Friday, when Mr. McCain announced that he had selected Ms. Palin, a 44-year-old mother of five to be his running mate, the anticipation of her appearance seemed to take up much of the oxygen here.
“Give the woman a chance to at least have two or three weeks of answering questions before you say, ‘Oh, she’s not prepared to be president or vice president,’ ” Mr. Giuliani said in an interview on the ABC program “Good Morning America.”
Hours later, a group of prominent Republican women held a news conference to highlight Ms. Palin’s executive experience as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, a town of less than 7,000 just outside Anchorage, then as governor of Alaska fore the past two years — a theme Republicans have increasingly pushed to contrast her resume with that of Mr. Obama.
“This is a well-qualified candidate for vice president and well-qualified to be a heartbeat away from the president,” said Carleton S. Fiorina, a top McCain campaign adviser and former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard.
Ms. Fiorina and others compared the intense scrutiny of Governor Palin to what they said was sexist coverage of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primary. Jane Swift, the former Governor of Massachusetts, portrayed the media’s coverage of her as “an outrageous smear campaign.”
Governor Palin, who has spent much of her time here in a hotel preparing for her address, walked through the Xcel Energy Center Wednesday morning, testing the microphones and getting a sense of the stage before what is looming as the most important speech of her political life — and perhaps of Mr. McCain’s as well. She is expected to speak around 10:30 p.m. Eastern time.
Republican officials said Ms. Palin would focus on her experiences in government and challenging entrenched interest in Alaska as well as what even Democrats acknowledge is an intriguing life story — one that took on a new aspect this week with the disclosure that her daughter, Bristol, 17, who is pregnant.
She and her family then met Mr. McCain, who arrived at the airport in early afternoon before making the rounds of selected gatherings. It was only a few days ago that there was some concern Mr. McCain might not appear at the convention had the hurricane inflicted devastating damage along the Gulf Coast.
After Mr. McCain stepped off his plane to greet his wife, Cindy, he and Governor Palin hugged. Mr. McCain also embraced Bristol Palin and shook hands with her boyfriend, Levi Johnston, a high school senior, and patted his shoulder. He lingered with Mr. Johnston and Bristol Palin — they have said they plan to marry and have their child — a little longer than he did with anyone else.
In all , the 16 assembled members of McCain and Palin families ranged in age from 4 months to 72 years. The two clans stood together for a family portrait before getting into the motorcade and leaving.
In a conference call with reporters, Rick Davis, Mr. McCain’s campaign manager, asserted that Governor Palin and her family had been the subject of frenzied, salacious coverage, which he said was unwarranted and should halt.
“I think everybody could dial it back,” Mr. Davis said.
As Democrats eagerly awaited Ms Palin’s appearance, they focused not on the governor’s personal background but on what they portrayed as discrepancies between the image of a reformer that Republicans are emphasizing and her push as a state official for the type of home-state federal spending projects, known as earmarks, that Mr. McCain opposes.
“Her reform and John McCain’s reform look a lot like what is already going on in Washington every day,” said Robert Gibbs, a top spokesman for the Obama campaign.
Mr. Gibbs also sought to set a high bar for Governor Palin, saying she would give a great speech and rouse her new admirers on the convention floor out of their seats.
She will not formally accept the nomination as vice president on Wednesday night, however, because Mr. McCain’s nomination and the roll call vote will follow her speech.
The aggressive defense of Ms. Palin actually began the night before, when former Senator Fred Thompson criticized “the other side and their friends in media.”
“I say give me a tough Alaskan governor who has taken on the political establishment in the largest state of the union and won, over the Beltway business-as-usual crowd any day of the week,” Mr. Thompson said.
Convention organizers also made it official today that Vice President Dick Cheney would not appear at the convention. He was scheduled to speak on Monday but left the country on a scheduled trip to three former Soviet republics, including Georgia, after his appearance was cancelled because of Hurricane Gustav. Looking ahead to the second night of speeches, Mr. Davis suggested the speakers would also be more aggressive in their criticism of Mr. Obama and the risks presented by a Democratic administration in the White House.
“We are getting more political tonight,” he said, adding that there will be more discussion of such issues as the economy, energy, health care and the environment. “We hit those pretty hard,” he said.
Appearing in Ohio at a town meeting on Thursday, Mr. Obama took the Republicans to task for largely ignoring the troubled American economy on their first night of speeches.
“You did not hear a single world about the economy,” Mr. Obama said before an outdoor gathering in New Philadelphia, Ohio. “Not once did they mention the hardships that people are going through.”