By ELISABETH BUMILLER and MICHAEL COOPER
Published: September 4, 2008
ST. PAUL — Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska introduced herself to America before a roaring crowd at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night as “just your average hockey mom” who was as qualified as the Democratic nominee, Senator Barack Obama, to be president of the United States.
An hour later Senator John McCain, a scrappy, rebellious former prisoner of war in Vietnam whose campaign was resurrected from near-death a year ago, was nominated by the Republican Party to be the 44th president of the United States after asking the cheering delegates, “Do you think we made the right choice” in picking Ms. Palin as the vice-presidential nominee?
The roll-call vote made Mr. McCain, 72, the first Republican presidential candidate to share the ticket with a woman and only the second presidential candidate from a major party to do so, after Walter F. Mondale selected Geraldine A. Ferraro as his running mate for the Democratic ticket in 1984.
But the nomination was a sideshow to the evening’s main event, the speech by the little-known Ms. Palin, who was seeking to wrest back the narrative of her life and redefine herself to the American public after a rocky start that has put Mr. McCain’s closest aides on edge. Ms. Palin’s appearance electrified a convention that has been consumed by questions of whether she was up to the job, as she launched slashing attacks on Mr. Obama’s claims of experience.
“Before I became governor of the great state of Alaska, I was mayor of my hometown,” Ms. Palin told the delegates in a speech that sought to eviscerate Mr. Obama, as delegates waved signs that said “I love hockey moms.” “And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves. I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities.”
As the crowd cheered its approval, Ms. Palin went on: “I might add that in small towns we don’t quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren’t listening.”
Ms. Palin was referring to Mr. Obama’s experience as a community organizer in Chicago before he served in the Illinois legislature and was elected to the United States Senate in 2004 as well as comments he made at a fundraiser in California about bitter rural voters who “cling” to guns and religion.
The address by Ms. Palin, 44, who stunned the political world last week as Mr. McCain’s pick for a running mate, took place before a convention transformed from an orderly coronation into a messy, days-long drama since the McCain campaign’s disclosure on Monday that Ms. Palin’s 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, was pregnant. Since then there have been a host of other distractions, including Hurricane Gustav, questions about how thoroughly Mr. McCain vetted what people close to his campaign have called the last-minute pick of Ms. Palin, and charges from Mr. McCain’s top aides that the news media has launched a sexist smear campaign against his running mate.
“I’m not a member of the permanent political establishment,” Ms. Palin said in her remarks. which took aim at the news media as the crowd began lustily booing the press. “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. But here’s a little news flash for all 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.”
Ms. Palin spent the first part of her speech introducing her family one by one to the crowd, including her husband, Todd. “We met in high school, and two decades and five children later he’s still my guy,” Ms. Palin said.
Ms. Palin also displayed humor in one of her biggest lines of the night when she said that “the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull” was “lipstick.”
Ms. Palin’s speech was the big draw of a convention night notable for not a single mention from the stage of the unpopular president, George W. Bush, who addressed the delegates Tuesday via satellite from the White House after the hurricane forced him to cancel his appearance.
Ms. Palin’s speech came after Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York launched a withering attack on Mr. Obama as part of a relentless assault by Republicans arguing that Ms. Palin, the former mayor of a town of less than 7,000 people who has been governor of Alaska for 20 months, had a more impressive résumé than Mr. Obama.
“She already has more executive experience than the entire Democratic ticket,” said Mr. Giuliani, one of three former rivals of Mr. McCain for the nomination, including former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, who took on Mr. Obama in speeches Wednesday evening.
“Barack Obama has never led anything, nothing, nada,” Mr. Giuliani said, then launched an attack on people who have questioned whether Ms. Palin will have enough energy to focus on the vice presidency as the mother of five. “How dare they question whether Sarah Palin has enough time to spend with her children and be vice president,” Mr. Giuliani said. “How dare they do that? When do they ever ask a man that question?”
The criticism of Mr. Obama reinforced new television commercials by the McCain campaign that similarly belittled the Democratic nominee’s experience. The campaign and its surrogates also took on what they called biased and sexist coverage of Ms. 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,” Ms. Palin said. “But the fact that drilling won’t solve every problem is no excuse to do nothing at all. Starting in January, in a McCain-Palin administration, we’re going to lay more pipelines, build more nuclear plants, create jobs with clean coal and move forward on solar, wind, geothermal and other alternative sources.”
The speech was the first public emergence for Ms. Palin since arriving here Sunday, two days after Mr. McCain named her as his running mate. Ms. Palin has spent her time in a hotel suite with her husband, Todd, and their five children preparing for her speech and the questions on foreign policy, national security and family matters that she will face from the news media when the McCain campaign makes her available to reporters. Their son Track, 19, deploys overseas for the Army next month.
Democrats, who have held much of their fire this week as the Republican melodrama has played out in Minnesota, criticized the convention as failing so far to address the concerns of ordinary Americans.
“You did not hear a single world about the economy,” Mr. Obama told an audience on in New Philadelphia, Ohio, before Ms. Palin’s speech. “Not once did they mention the hardships that people are going through.”
Mr. McCain landed in Minneapolis on Wednesday afternoon and was greeted on the tarmac by Ms. Palin, her family and his family in a striking multigenerational tableau, 16 strong, with the youngest member Trig Palin, Sarah Palin’s 4-month-old, who has Down syndrome. Later, in Mr. McCain’s appearance at the convention, he praised the Palins as “a beautiful family.”
Delegates said they were enthralled by Ms. Palin. "I think she’s great; she’s giving it back to the Democrats for all the sorry things they’ve said about her and about America," said Anita Bargas, a delegate from Angleton, Tex. "She’s a conservative, and she has a great sense of humor."
With Ms. Palin facing a torrent of inquiries from reporters, Mr. McCain joined other Republicans in assailing news outlets when he told ABC News in an interview on Wednesday that “Sarah Palin has 24,000 employees in the state government” and was “responsible for 20 percent of the nation’s energy supply.” He added that he was entertained by the comparison of her experience to that of Mr. Obama and that “I hope we can keep making that comparison that running a political campaign is somehow comparable to being the executive of the largest state in America.”