ST PAUL, Minn. — Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin walked into the national spotlight of the Republican National Convention on Wednesday with a speech that electrified the crowd and cast John McCain as the true reformer who can bring about change.
Her speech topped a night heavy on Republican themes including lower taxes, smaller government and media contempt.
Palin, the largely unknown “hockey mom” who is the first woman on a GOP ticket, provided the greatest degree of excitement in a convention scaled back by Hurricane Gustav. She drew sustained cheering and delivered an acceptance speech heavy with praise for her possible new boss, calling him “a true profile in courage.”
She hailed the military and paid tribute to her son who is about to deploy to Iraq. But she also spoke proudly of her whole family and her status as a mother. She held her infant baby on stage after she spoke, he husband and children joining her.
After spending about a third of her speech focusing on personal stories, she then turned to her experience in local and state government. She also took shots at Obama without naming him.
Palin also slapped back at media reports questioning her qualifications, saying media “elite” don’t accept anyone not part of the DC establishment. She said she didn’t care about media opinion because she intended to work for the people, not for pundits.
Palin listed some of her accomplishments as governor, singling out her resistence to the oil lobby in Alaska.
She echoed McCain campaign points on energy and oil drilling.
Palin also showed a willingness to ridicule Obama, joining the chorus other speakers before her established.
She cast Obama as an almost effete candidate with a contempt for the small-town America where she grew up, and doubted the value of his experience as a community organizer in preparing him for the Oval Office.
“My fellow citizens, the American presidency is not supposed to be a personal jouney of self discovery,” she said.
All of it played wonderfully with the party faithful in attendance. And she often sounded more “on message” than McCain sometimes does. But how much appealed — or didn’t — to undecideds could prove critical. Absent was any talk of cultural issues like abortion, so important to many party activists in the crowd.
But it didn’t matter, and she struck the right tone of compassion and confidence as a leader.
“Our family has the same ups and downs as any other … the same challenges and the same joys,” she said, a reference to her birth earlier this year of a child with Down syndrome.
Early speakers featured a diversity of faces — mainly African American and Hispanic — all sharing personal stories of self-reliance and sacrifice.
Taking a page straight from the Democratic playbook, many also told of having been born without money or privilege.
Republican leader Michael Steele of Maryland, for instance, talked of his hard-working mother and the values she taught him before praising McCain.
Other themes touched on: less government and taxes; more opportunities for entrepreneurs; minimal regulation; stopping the “evil” of radical Islam and terrorism.
Former GOP contenders Rudy Giuiliani and Mike Huckabee sang McCain’s praises about his war heroism. But while Huckabee applauded Obama’s success as the Democratic nominee, Giuiliani came on — when primetime network coverage started — and bashed, ridiculed and dismissed Obama.
The conventioneers loved it, frequently erupting in standing ovations.
Giuiliani also hailed McCain’s support of the Iraq war, saying “McCain got it right and Obama got it wrong.”
He painted Obama as a flip-flopper, drawing huge laughs when he said, “If I were Joe Biden, I’d get that vice president offer in writing.”
As Giuiliani played attack dog on Obama, Gov. Linda Lingle of Hawaii warmed up the crowd for her friend Palin, hailing her as an experienced executive.
Noticeable by its absence was any mention of George Bush. But the more that each speaker said McCain would bring change to Washington, the more it was obvious that McCain is trying to run against Bush as much as Obama.