Palin to take spotlight

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 3, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Buffeted by revelations both political and personal, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin prepared Wednesday to speak to GOP delegates and other Americans wanting to know more about the person John McCain picked for his running mate.

Palin’s experience — she has been mayor of tiny Wasilla, Alaska, and has served as the state’s governor for less than two years — and her commitment to resisting politics-as-usual government have been questioned since McCain chose her last week. The process that led to her selection has been criticized as hasty because McCain had met her just once before he offered her the job.

Palin also is the subject of an ethics investigation involving the firing of the state’s public safety commissioner after he wouldn’t dismiss her former brother-in-law, a state trooper. Her efforts as mayor to gain millions of dollars in federal funding through the so-called ‘‘earmark’’ process appeared to be at odds with the McCain message of fiscal reform.

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Her personal life became a topic of discussion after Palin revealed that her 17-year-old unmarried daughter was pregnant. Yet her candidacy has excited Republicans at the convention and across the country, in part because she has earned a reputation for taking on entrenched interests in Alaska and is staunchly pro-gun and anti-abortion.

‘‘Give her a chance to make her first speech, give her a chance to do her first interview,’’ said former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the convention’s keynote speaker.

‘‘Of course it’s going to be high stakes,’’ Giuliani said in an interview Wednesday with ‘‘Good Morning America’’ on ABC. ‘‘The media is ready to pounce on any mistake. … She looks to me like she’s got tremetinuing drip of potentially embarrassing details — knocked the convention off message before a rousing program Tuesday night.

Speakers extolled McCain as a war hero and maverick senator while blasting Democrat Barack Obama as an untested liberal. The 47-year-old Illinois senator is seeking to become the first black president.

‘‘Democrats present a history-making nominee for president. History-making in that he is the most liberal, most inexperienced nominee ever to run for president,’’ former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson said as delegates roared with delight.

Palin has a chance Wednesday to speak above the media din and present herself directly to voters as a strong-willed reformer and a solid conservative with appeal to women, including supporters of failed Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The convention returned, mostly, to normal Tuesday after its opening session was cut short as Hurricane Gustav bore down on the Gulf Coast. With damage from Gustav relatively light, the political speeches began, with President Bush calling McCain ‘‘ready to lead this nation.’’

Thompson, a longtime ally of McCain whose own campaign for the White House flamed out early this year, tossed chunk after chunk of rhetorical red meat to the delegates.

‘‘Washington pundits and media big shots are in a frenzy over the selection of a woman who has actually governed rather than just talked a good game on the Sunday talk shows and hit the Washington cocktail circuit,’’ Thompson said.

But the media focus on Palin’s difficulties won’t go away, particularly since Bristol Palin and the unborn child’s father, 18-year-old Levi Johnston, were to attend Wednesday’s session. Republicans across the party defended Palin.

‘‘I haven’t seen anything that comes out about her that in any way troubles me or shakes my confidence in her,’’ said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who ran unsuccessfully for the party’s presidential nomination this year.

The prime spot in Tuesday evening’s lineup went to Connecticut Democratic-turned-independent Sen. Joe Lieberman — whose vote presently gives Democrats control of the Senate — who enthusiastically endorsed McCain and Palin.

‘‘When others wanted to retreat in defeat from the field of battle, when Barack Obama was voting to cut off funding for our troops on the ground,’’ Lieberman said, ‘‘John McCain had the courage to stand against the tide of public opinion.’’

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Lieberman ‘‘can give all the partisan speeches he wants, but as the American people have made very clear, the last thing this country needs is another four years of the same old failed Bush-McCain policies of the past.’’