ST. PAUL, Minn. – Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin electrified the Republican convention Wednesday night, pitching herself as a champion of government reform, mocking Democratic Sen. Barack Obama as an elitist and belittling media criticism of her experience.
In a speech that served as her introduction to most of the nation after Sen. John McCain’s surprise decision to pick her as his vice presidential running mate, Palin pitched herself as the product of small-town America and laced her address with sarcastic digs at Obama. She said it is his experience, not hers, that is lacking, and she embraced the role of leading the attack against the Democratic ticket.
“I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities,” she deadpanned. “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.”
Palin said she will ignore the “Washington elite” who do not consider her qualified to be vice president, and she served notice that she will not wilt in the face of critical coverage.
“Here’s a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators,” she told the convention delegates, who wagged their fingers toward the arena’s media boxes as she delivered the punch line. “I’m not going to Washington to seek their good opinion – I’m going to Washington to serve the people of this country.”
McCain joined her on stage, to even bigger cheers, and then the delegates went about the business of formally awarding the nomination he had sought for nearly a decade. At 72, the Arizona senator is the oldest first-time nominee in U.S. history.
Palin, a 44-year-old wife and mother of five, was greeted with thunderous applause after a fiery and rousing introduction by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who called her a woman “who has no fear,” and added: “This is a woman who stands up for what’s right.”
Palin focused on almost every tactical misstep Obama’s campaign has made, painting a caricature of the Democrat as an out-of-touch elitist and a lightweight celebrity with no sense of what matters to average Americans.
“We tend to prefer candidates who don’t talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco,” she said.
Mocking the speech in which Obama accepted the Democratic nomination before a crowd of more than 84,000 at a Denver football stadium, she asked: “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? What does he actually seek to accomplish, after he’s done turning back the waters and healing the planet?”
She leaned heavily on her own biography, introducing her husband, Todd, as a commercial fisherman, a union member, a world-champion snow-machine racer and an Eskimo. She described herself as a mom-turned-politician with the “same challenges and the same joys” as other families.
She also offered at least one apparent ad-lib: “The difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull?” she asked. “Lipstick.”
Palin pledged that she would join McCain in a crusade for change, promising to “govern with integrity, good will, clear convictions, and … a servant’s heart.” And she praised McCain’s character, making it clear that Obama has not served his country the way McCain has.
“It’s a long way from the fear and pain and squalor of a 6-by-4 cell in Hanoi to the Oval Office,” she said of McCain’s time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. “But if Senator McCain is elected president, that is the journey he will have made.”
McCain appeared onstage briefly after her speech, declaring her the “next vice president of the United States” before a screaming crowd. He is scheduled to appear tonight to accept the party’s presidential nomination, a victory that has taken a decade.
For all of Palin’s charm, however, it was three men who had tried to deny McCain that nomination who first delivered the searing attacks on liberalism, the media and Obama that the conservative crowd craved.
Giuliani brought delegates to their feet repeatedly, turning out an energetic, biting assault on Obama’s candidacy, mocking the Democrat as an inexperienced, overly ambitious, flip-flopping politician.
The former mayor could barely get through his speech as he described Obama’s experience, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
Obama worked as a community organizer, he told the crowd, before heading for the Illinois legislature.
Referring to Democratic questions about Palin’s qualifications, Giuliani added: “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that Barack Obama feels that her hometown isn’t cosmopolitan enough. I’m sorry, Barack, that it’s not flashy enough. Maybe they cling to religion there.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney – McCain’s chief nemesis throughout the GOP primary campaign – repeatedly tapped into delegates’ anger about what many consider to be unfair coverage of their vice presidential nominee.
“For decades, the Washington sun has been rising in the East,” home to “the Eastern elites, to the editorial pages of the Times and the Post,” he said. “If America really wants change, it’s time to look for the sun in the West, ’cause it’s about to rise and shine from Arizona and Alaska.”
The crowd erupted in applause, as it did again when Romney vowed to “stop the spread of government dependency, to fight it like the poison it is. It’s time for the party of big ideas, not the party of Big Brother.”
Romney was followed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who employed his trademark wit to derided Obama’s foreign policy judgment and reject Democratic attacks on Republicans as the party of the wealthy.
“I really tire of hearing how the Democrats care about the working guy as if all Republicans grew up with silk stockings and silver spoons,” he said, bringing delegates to their feet.
“In my little hometown of Hope, Arkansas, the three sacred heroes were Jesus, Elvis and FDR, not necessarily in that order.”