ST. PAUL, Minn. — Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin formally introduced herself to America on Wednesday night by telling the Republican National Convention about her small-town roots and her disdain for the Washington political establishment.
"I had the privilege of living most of my life in a small town," the presumptive Republican vice-presidential nominee told the delegates, who've been gushing over her all week.
"I was your average hockey mom," she said with a big grin, eyeing a supporter who was holding up a sign that said "Hockey Moms 4 Palin." Palin called herself a hockey mom with an edge, explaining the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull: "Lipstick."
And she defined herself as someone irritated with the news media and Washington.
"I'm not a member of the permanent political establishment," she said. "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." The crowd groaned.
"But here's a little news flash for 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 great country." The line drew some of the loudest cheers of the night.
Palin spoke just before delegates were to nominate Arizona Sen. John McCain, who's to make his acceptance speech Thursday night. In a surprise move, McCain walked onstage shortly after her remarks, to wild applause.
"Don't you think we made the right choice for the next vice president of the United States?" McCain said, inspiring even louder applause.
Barack Obama's campaign responded immediately:
"The speech that Governor Palin gave was well delivered, but it was written by George Bush's speechwriter and sounds exactly like the same divisive, partisan attacks we've heard from George Bush for the last eight years. If Governor Palin and John McCain want to define 'change' as voting with George Bush 90 percent of the time, that's their choice, but we don't think the American people are ready to take a 10 percent chance on change," said Bill Burton, an Obama campaign spokesman.
Also speaking Wednesday were three of McCain's rivals for the nomination. Each praised him and expanded on Palin's themes.
"I'm not a Republican because I grew up rich, but because I didn't want to spend the rest of my life poor, waiting for the government to rescue me," former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney linked McCain and Ronald Reagan, while former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani warmed up the crowd for Palin with a rousing series of blasts at Democratic presidential nominee Obama.
When Giuliani recalled that Obama was a community organizer, he said it in a mocking tone. The crowd laughed and then cheered, and laughed again when Giuliani lowered his voice and charged sarcastically that Obama had claimed that Wasilla, Alaska, Palin's hometown, wasn't "flashy" or "cosmopolitan" enough.
And the crowd chanted, "Drill, baby, drill," when Giuliani said that McCain would pursue offshore oil drilling.
The themes of Palin as a devoted conservative, regular mom — her five children and husband Todd watched, with Todd holding their 4-month-old son, Trig _and news media villain have been reverberating through the convention all week, tactics aimed at boosting the 44-year-old first-term governor while distracting attention from a string of controversies.
Since McCain announced the Palin choice last Friday, the media have reported that she sought $27 million worth of expensive earmarks — special federally funded projects — for her small town while she was mayor. McCain's opposition to earmarks is a major campaign plank.
Palin also is under investigation for allegedly dismissing the state public-safety commissioner after he refused to fire a trooper embroiled in a bitter divorce with her sister.
Palin's level of experience has been scrutinized; she's been the governor for less than two years. Reporters also have asked questions about her 17-year-old pregnant, unwed daughter, and whether the McCain campaign had researched such aspects of Palin's background in depth before announcing her selection.
The Anchorage Daily News, a McClatchy newspaper, has reported that the McCain campaign didn't contact prominent Alaskans and others close to Palin to check her out, as would be the norm.
Campaign officials responded angrily Wednesday.
"The McCain campaign will have no further comment about our long and thorough process," senior adviser Steve Schmidt said. "This nonsense is over."
Palin was virtually unknown before McCain picked her last week, and she remains a mystery to most voters. But she was greeted warmly by the delegates _they cheered for four minutes when she appeared onstage — and she gave them what they wanted.
"When I ran for the (Wasilla) city council, I didn't need focus groups and voter profiles, because I knew those voters, and knew their families, too," she said.
Palin also recalled her days as the mayor of Wasilla, population about 7,500.
"Since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain what the job involves," Palin said. "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities," a sharp dig at Obama. Palin served on the city council from 1992 to 1996 and was the mayor from 1996 to 2002. Obama was a community organizer in Chicago after graduating from Harvard Law School.
Obama, Palin said, "is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform, not even in the state Senate."
Palin, however, exaggerated her claim to have fought to achieve a $40 billion natural-gas pipeline to help win America energy independence. Construction hasn't begun and remains years away at best.
This summer, at Palin's request, the Alaska legislature passed a bill to issue a license to TransCanada Corp., a Canadian energy company, and pay it $500 million as an incentive to build a giant pipeline someday from the top of Alaska into Canada. Federal regulators haven't yet approved the project. Palin's $40 billion estimate is also about $10 billion more than most industry estimates.
Her speech Wednesday night could quickly provide evidence as to whether she's an asset to the ticket. When McCain tapped her, he was hoping to win voters such as Raleigh, N.C., Democrat Brenda Lankshear.
"I'm leaning McCain because of Palin," said Lankshear, who'd supported Democrat Hillary Clinton. "To see a woman in the White House, even if it's a vice president, means more to me as a woman, and it would mean a lot to the country."
Interviews with a dozen North Carolina women, including independents, suggested that Palin is drawing support from voters who are intrigued by the notion of a female governor on the ticket.
Still, some were skeptical.
"If I were considering Mr. McCain, this would ensure that I would not vote for him," said Sandy Dupuy, an unaffiliated voter from Charlotte. "There were so many other good choices he could have made."
Others were ready to give Palin a chance.
"I'm pretty impressed," said Elaine Young, a mortgage banker and mother of two from Charlotte. "Since I'm a working mom, I kind of feel like she's busted her butt to get where she is, and that's a great thing."
At the University of Miami, students watched the speeches with open minds.
Laura Burgess, 20, who's from Houston, said she was unsure how she'd vote. "I'm really happy to see there's a woman," she said, "but I'm concerned she's pro-life."
Stephen Ruotsi, 20, a registered Republican from Buffalo, N.Y., said he too was undecided.
"In the next couple weeks, we'll learn her life story," he said of Palin. "I'll reserve judgment until then."
In Pennsylvania, Republican Cyndi Weaver, a 53-year-old from Philipsburg, in central Pennsylvania's Centre County, attends the First Baptist Church, opposes abortion rights and said moral issues topped the economy and the Iraq war as her chief concern.
Halfway through Palin's speech Wednesday night, Weaver said: "I like her because she's down to earth, just a common mom, and not for the big Washington political thing. I just find her really down to earth. She reflects family."
In Osceola Mills, Pa., McCain's choice of Palin got the attention of Anita Myers, 47, because Palin is an "everyday person," whereas, she said, Obama only tries to appear that way.
Partway through Palin's speech, Myers said that Palin appeared to be the normal family person she'd hoped to see, and she was impressed that Palin's entire family was there. But she said that Palin's speech wasn't forceful enough to overcome her unfavorable opinion of McCain.
"I just don't like John McCain," Myers said.
(William Douglas in Cleveland, Jim Morrill of The Charlotte Observer in Charlotte, N.C., Jennifer Lebovich of The Miami Herald in Miami, Wesley Loy of the Anchorage Daily News in Anchorage, Alaska, and Michael Joseph of the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pa., contributed to this article.)
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
McClatchy Newspapers 2008