Palin to take center stage as questions swirl

By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press Writer

ST. PAUL, Minn. – After two days of silence, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin will step to center stage at the Republican National Convention to prove to delegates that she can help John McCain win the White House despite distracting questions about her family life and qualifications.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, once McCain’s rival for the GOP presidential nomination, was to deliver the convention’s keynote address Wednesday. Both Palin, 44, and McCain, 72, also were to be officially voted onto the GOP presidential ticket by convention delegates.

Republicans hoped Palin’s speech — to be delivered before a nationwide television audience Wednesday night — would sell voters on her candidacy despite questions about her qualifications and the thoroughness of McCain’s selection process, to say nothing of the continuing distractions involving her family and her brief tenure as governor.

The addition of Palin to the ticket has excited Republicans here and across the country. She has earned a reputation for taking on entrenched interests in Alaska and is staunchly pro-gun and anti-abortion.

But the stunning disclosure Monday that Palin’s unmarried 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is five months pregnant — and a continuing drip of potentially embarrassing details — had knocked the convention off message before a rousing program Tuesday night.

Speakers extolled McCain as a war hero and maverick senator while blasting 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.

Palin, who has been in St. Paul since Sunday but out of sight, has a chance Wednesday to speak above the media din and present herself directly to voters as a strong-willed reformer and a solid conservative with appeal to women, including supporters of failed Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The convention returned, mostly, to normal Tuesday after its opening session was cut short as Hurricane Gustav bore down on the Gulf Coast. With damage from Gustav relatively light, the political speeches began, with President Bush calling McCain “ready to lead this nation.”

Thompson, a longtime ally of McCain whose own campaign for the White House flamed out early this year, tossed chunk after chunk of rhetorical red meat to the delegates.

“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.

But the media focus on Palin’s difficulties won’t go away, particularly since Bristol Palin and the unborn child’s father, 18-year-old Levi Johnston, were to attend Wednesday’s session.

Republicans across the party defended Palin, who in addition to her daughter’s pregnancy is under investigation by a state legislative panel over whether she had Alaska’s public safety commissioner fired after he refused to dismiss a state trooper who had divorced Palin’s sister.

“I haven’t seen anything that comes out about her that in any way troubles me or shakes my confidence in her,” said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who ran unsuccessfully for the party’s presidential nomination this year.

The prime spot in Tuesday evening’s lineup went to Connecticut Democratic-turned-independent Sen. Joe Lieberman — whose vote presently gives Democrats control of the Senate — who enthusiastically endorsed McCain and Palin.

“When others wanted to retreat in defeat from the field of battle, when Barack Obama was voting to cut off funding for our troops on the ground,” Lieberman said, “John McCain had the courage to stand against the tide of public opinion.”

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Lieberman “can give all the partisan speeches he wants, but as the American people have made very clear, the last thing this country needs is another four years of the same old failed Bush-McCain policies of the past.”


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