On Message: Republicans Hammer Palin Talking Points

If it seems as if every talking head who has ever donned a "Republican hat" and stepped up to a microphone is saying the same thing about Gov. Sarah Palin, you're right.

Since revelations about the Alaska governor and vice presidential pick shocked the GOP convention with more force than Hurricane Gustav struck New Orleans, Republicans have been on message, closely hewing to a set of specific talking points.

"The campaign has a list of its surrogates and it sends them an e-mail every day, letting them know the line of the day," said Ed Rollins, a Republican strategist who chaired former Gov. Mike Huckabee's primary run, but who is not affiliated with John McCain's campaign.

From speeches on the convention floor by the likes of Fred Thompson and Joe Lieberman, to TV interviews with Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich, to the natter on conservative talk radio, everyone seems to know just what the line of the day is.

Republicans want you to know she's a reformer, she's experienced, her family has a right to privacy and the media are unfairly beating up on her.

After it was revealed this weekend that Palin's 17-year-old daughter was pregnant, that the governor had hired a lawyer to defend her in an ethics investigation, that she attended meetings of a fringe party calling for Alaskan independence and that her husband had been arrested in the 1980s for drunken driving, the campaign has tried to steer the message in a positive direction.

"Reformer" has become the campaign's shorthand for the way Palin took on her state's Republican Party bosses and big oil.

"She is a courageous, successful, reformer, who is not afraid to take on the establishment," Thompson said in an address Tuesday night.

"Gov. Sarah Palin, like John McCain, is a reformer who has taken on the special interests and reached across party lines. She is a leader we can count on to help John shake up Washington," said Lieberman, who despite his Democratic roots (he's currently an independent) was considered for the Republican veep spot.

The campaign has made a point of stressing that even in her career as a small-town mayor and a half-term governor, Palin has had more executive experience than Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee.

"She is as ready [to be president] as the Democratic ticket combined. For me the idea that she's had executive experience is enormous," Giuliani told ABC's "Good Morning America" today. "Barack Obama has never run a city, state, agency or military unit."

Of course, McCain, who has spent his professional career as a lawmaker, has no executive experience either. But the campaign has a response to that too.

When asked what executive experience McCain has, Giuliani said: "How about a military unit? How about commanding men in battle? Barack Obama has the least executive experience of anyone who's ever run for president of the United States."

Conservative radio and television commentator Sean Hannity on Tuesday compared Palin to Obama, portraying the governor as a long-term politician compared to Obama, the community organizer.

"You know, I look at her background and her record. I think if they want to have this debate over experience and the community organizer, she was in elected office for five years before Barack Obama even ran for the Illinois state Senate. He's never been an executive, except when he chaired a board with [former radical activist] William Ayers, the terrorist," Hannity said Tuesday on Fox News.

According to Keith Appell, a Republican strategist who ran Steve Forbes 2000 campaign, keeping everyone on message is essential to running a successful campaign.

"The success of all campaigns whether for dogcatcher, or Congress, or president comes down to message discipline. If you have effective message discipline, you'll usually prevail. Some campaigns aren't so good at that. So far McCain has been pretty good, so has Obama."

Getting the message out is as important as crafting the talking points, Appell said.

"It has got to come from the top down. Once the message has been crafted, there are all kinds of ways the campaign communicates with the surrogates and staff to get the message out. Communication has really evolved. There are e-mails, cell phone calls, text messages and conference calls," he said.

Targeting the media for their treatment of Palin, senior campaign adviser Steve Schmidt sent a message from the top, declaring, "This nonsense is over."

He described the attention surrounding Palin's pregnant daughter and other recent revelations about the governor's personal life and professional career as a "faux media scandal designed to destroy the first female Republican nominee" for vice president.

GOP ideologues picked up the point.

"Some 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," said Thompson.

Palin speaks tonight at the Republican National Convention, her first address since accepting McCain's offer to run last week in Ohio.

Much of her success and the success of the campaign in the weeks to come, observers say, will depend not on what the pundits have to say but on what she does.

Ferdous Al-Faruque contributed research to this report from Washington, D.C.

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