Wednesday, September 3, 2008



McCain takes spotlight — with Palin family
By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press Writer
ST. PAUL, Minn.

John McCain took the spotlight Wednesday in this excited convention city where he will claim the Republican presidential nomination, arriving with hugs for running mate Sarah Palin and her pregnant daughter — and a handshake for the 17-year-old's husband-to-be.

Even before McCain's plane landed, his campaign struck back heatedly at the persistent questions about his surprise choice for vice president, who has been buffeted by political and personal revelations. McCain's campaign declared "this nonsense is over" and announced a new ad to tout Palin's credentials.

McCain will be nominated Wednesday night in a roaring roll call and will deliver his acceptance speech Thursday. Palin will address the convention Wednesday night.

She was waiting at the airport to greet McCain. He stepped off his blue-and-white plane, dubbed "Straight Talk Express," at noon — just as Democratic rival Barack Obama was in the middle of a campaign speech in New Philadelphia, Ohio. The dual scene was captured in split screen television shots.

"More jobs are being shipped overseas," Obama said. "More and more people are losing their pensions. They just don't get it," he said of McCain and Palin.

The new Republican ad sought to promote Palin and contrast her record with Obama's.

"She has a record of bipartisan reform," an announcer says, as newspaper headlines appear next to images of Palin or Obama. "He's the Senate's most liberal. She took on the oil producers. He gave big oil billions in subsidies and giveaways. She's earned a reputation as a reformer. His reputation? Empty words."

Obama did vote for a 2005 energy bill backed by President Bush that included billions in subsidies for oil and natural gas production. McCain opposed the bill on grounds it included unnecessary tax breaks for the oil industry.

Obama at the time voted for an amendment to remove the oil and gas industry tax breaks from the bill, but that effort failed. His campaign has said he voted for the final legislation because it included huge investments in renewable energy.

At the airport in St. Paul, McCain kissed his wife, Cindy, at the bottom of the steps, and then he moved down a line of family and friends with handshakes and greetings before he got to Palin. They hugged and McCain talked with her family. Levi Johnston, the boyfriend of Palin's daughter, Bristol, got a pat on the shoulder as well as a handshake.

After a slow start of the convention because of Hurricane Gustav, momentum was building on Day Three of the GOP gathering. The spotlight was on Palin, the 44-year-old governor and surprise pick to be McCain's running mate. She has been the talk of the convention, but most Americans have hardly heard her voice, let alone her views.

She will give her address in prime time, at 10:30 p.m. EDT.

"She will speak as a governor, a former mayor and someone with both hands on the steering wheel of America's energy economy," said Tucker Eskew, a senior McCain adviser. "She will detail her record of shaking up the status quo in Alaska and standing up to entrenched interests to put the government back on the side of the people."

Wednesday night's speakers also include a trio of former McCain rivals, now supporters: Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani. "We are getting a little more political tonight," Davis said in a hint of the partisan barbs being sharpened for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

The campaign lashed out at the media and called for an end to questions about Palin's background and her family. Senior campaign adviser Steve Schmidt decried what he called a "faux media scandal designed to destroy the first female Republican nominee" for vice president.

Palin's experience — she has been mayor of tiny Wasilla, Alaska, and has served as the state's governor for less than two years — has been questioned since McCain chose her last week. The process that led to her selection has been criticized as hasty because McCain had met her just once before he offered her the job.

Palin also is the subject of an ethics investigation involving the firing of the state's public safety commissioner after he wouldn't dismiss her former brother-in-law, a state trooper. Her efforts as mayor to gain millions of dollars in federal funding through the so-called "earmark" process appeared to be at odds with the McCain message of fiscal reform.

Her personal life became a topic of discussion after Palin revealed that her daughter was pregnant. Yet her candidacy has excited Republicans at the convention and across the country, in part because she has earned a reputation for taking on entrenched interests in Alaska and is staunchly pro-gun and anti-abortion.

"Give her a chance to make her first speech, give her a chance to do her first interview," said former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the convention's keynote speaker.

"Of course it's going to be high stakes," Giuliani said in an interview Wednesday with "Good Morning America" on ABC. "The media is ready to pounce on any mistake. ... She looks to me like she's got tremendous confidence, got tremendous ability as a speaker."

Palin walked onto the spare stage at the Xcel Center about 6:20 a.m. local time for a run-through and spent about 10 minutes looking out into the nearly empty arena and discussing where she would stand at the lectern and where she would look during her prime-time speech. Joining Palin were McCain campaign manager Davis and senior adviser Nicolle Wallace.

The disclosure Monday that Palin's daughter Bristol is five months pregnant — and a continuing drip of potentially embarrassing details — knocked the convention off message before a rousing program Tuesday night.

Speakers extolled McCain as a war hero and maverick senator while blasting Democrat Obama as an untested liberal. The 47-year-old Illinois senator is seeking to become the first black president.

"Democrats present a history-making nominee for president. History-making in that he is the most liberal, most inexperienced nominee ever to run for president," former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson said as delegates roared with delight.

"Washington pundits and media big shots are in a frenzy over the selection of a woman who has actually governed rather than just talked a good game on the Sunday talk shows and hit the Washington cocktail circuit," Thompson said.