Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin claimed her historic spot on the Republican ticket Wednesday, uncorking a smiling, slashing attack on Democrat Barack Obama and vowing to help presidential candidate John McCain bring real change to Washington.
“Victory in Iraq is finally in sight; he wants to forfeit,” she said of Obama. “Al-Qaida terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America; he's worried that someone won't read them their rights.”
After days of mounting questions about her qualifications, she also rallied the Republican National Convention by touting her small-town government experience and ridiculing concerns about whether she is up to the job of vice president. The first female vice presidential nominee in the party's history, she spoke to uncounted millions of viewers at home in her solo national debut.
To the delight of the delegates, McCain strolled unexpectedly onto the convention stage after the speech and hugged his running mate.
“Don't you think we made the right choice” for vice president? he said as his delegates roared their approval. It was an unspoken reference to the controversy that has greeted Palin, including the disclosure that her 17-year-old daughter was pregnant.
The packed convention hall exploded in cheers as McCain stood with Palin and her family – including mother-to-be Bristol and the father, 18-year-old Levi Johnston.
The night also included a noisy roll call of the states to deliver their presidential nomination to McCain. At 72, the Arizona senator is the oldest first-time nominee in history, collecting his party's top prize after pursuing it for the better part of a decade.
Palin drew cheers from the moment she stepped onto the stage.
“Our family has the same ups and downs as any other, the same challenges and the same joys,” she said as the audience signaled its understanding.
She traced her career from the local PTA to the governor's office, casting herself as a maverick in the McCain mold, and seemed to delight in poking fun at her critics and her ticketmate's political rivals.
Since taking office as governor, she said she had taken on the oil industry, brought the state budget into surplus and vetoed nearly one-half billion dollars in wasteful spending.
“I thought we could muddle through without the governor's personal chef – although I've got to admit that sometimes my kids sure miss her.”
Not surprisingly, her best-received lines were barbs at Obama.
“I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities,” she said, a reference to Obama's stint as a community organizer.
“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,” she said.
That was a reference to Obama's springtime observation about some frustrated working-class Americans.
By contrast, she said of McCain: “Take the maverick out of the Senate. Put him in the White House.
“He's a man who's there to serve his country, and not just his party.”
“In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers,” she said in another reference to Obama's campaign theme. “And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change.”
Palin also took on what she portrayed as an elite media establishment unwilling to accept that her government service in a small town and a sparsely populated state gives her the resume to serve at the highest levels of the federal government.
“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,” she said in her remarks. “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.”
Entering their second full night of speeches, Republican leaders promised to sharpen their arguments against Obama, sending out three of McCain's former rivals for the presidential nomination – former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee – to take on the Democratic presidential nominee.
Obama's campaign responded immediately to Palin's speech, written by former White House speechwriter Matt Scully:
“The speech that Gov. 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 Gov. 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.