ST. PAUL—Any question that Sarah Palin has become the most unexpected new star of the Republican Party in decades evaporated in the deafening cheers that greeted the Alaska governor who last week was largely unknown, and tonight became just the second woman ever nominated to a national party ticket as vice president.
It had been a tumultuous few days for the first-term governor of Alaska, but in a combative speech tonight before thousands of party members packed into the Xcel Energy Center, she made a case for presumed Republican nominee John McCain, the man who stunned the political world last Friday when he announced her as his pick.
And she launched a blistering fusillade against the two equal enemies of Republicans: Democratic nominee Barack Obama and the media, while managing the trick of embracing her everywoman, "hockey mom" credentials.
"I'm not a member of the permanent political establishment," she said, her voice dripping in sarcasm. "And 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.
"But here's a 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." Amid the raucous cheers, rose a chant of NBC, the network whose coverage both the McCain and Hillary Clinton campaigns have seen as sexist.
And the anti-abortion, pro-gun rights mother of five embraced what McCain strategists have touted as her strongest asset, her small-town authenticity whose foray into politics began when she signed up for the local PTA.
That led to election to city council, then mayor of the small town of Wasilla, and finally, two years ago, to the governorship. Palin, whose five-month-old son has Down Syndrome, also made an emotional promise to parents of special needs children that they would have a friend in the White House.
Palin defended herself against assertions that she lacks the experience to be one heartbeat away from the presidency with multiple shots at Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's resume. "Since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on [my] experience, let me explain to them what that job involves," she said. "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities."
She criticized Obama for comments he made at a fundraiser in San Francisco suggesting that working class people in hard times cling to guns and religion, and mocked him for authoring two memoirs "but not a single major law or reform." She derided Obama's stadium acceptance speech and its "Styrofoam Greek columns."
"The presidency," she said, "is not meant to be a journey of personal discovery."
Palin made a brief nod to the historic nature of her nomination—she becomes the first woman on a national major party ticket since the Democrats nominated Geraldine Ferraro as their vice presidential candidate in 1984. "Every woman can walk through every door of opportunity," Palin said pointing to her parents who were sitting with her children, husband, and the McCain clan.
Less than a week ago, she was largely unknown—even prominent female Republican leaders like Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison were hard-pressed to pronounce Palin's name correctly much less name her credentials. Tonight she was cracking jokes about hockey moms (The difference between a hockey mom and pit bull? "Lipstick," she said.), and taking on Obama in a way that made former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's attacks earlier in the evening look soft.
The McCain campaign, reeling from daily revelations about Palin's family and some exaggerations about her record as a reformer, had tried strenuously over the past several days to steer the conversation to a reliable whipping horse: the media.
Since the little-vetted governor was tapped by McCain, news cycles have been dominated not only by the disclosure of the Palin's unmarried 17-year-old daughter's pregnancy, but by detailed reviews of the governor's performance in Alaska that compared the campaign's words with the record.