ABC News’ Brett Hovell and Imtiyaz Delawala report: At a joint McCain-Palin town hall meeting in Grand Rapids, Mich., Wednesday night, Gov. Sarah Palin took questions directly from voters for the first time, but rarely directly answered the questions posed to her or ventured from lines she often delivers on the campaign trail.
Palin jumped right in from the first question directed to her Republican running mate, Sen. John McCain, on how he would address the threat of radical Islam. After McCain gave a short response, Palin interrupted, asking, "John, John. Can I add something? I want to add something to that."
"Always," McCain replied, drawing cheers and applause from a crowd of 2,000 packed into a gym at Grand Rapids Community College.
"OK. May I add something, because sometimes my running mate is a bit too humble," Palin added, returning to a regular point she makes on the campaign trail. "We need to remember who it was who pushed for and supported and risked much for the strategy that is working in Iraq, and that is the surge. He is the one who pushed for it."
One female voter asked for Palin’s response to discussion about her perceived lack of foreign policy experience, asking her to "please respond to that criticism and give us specific skills that you think you have, to bring to the White House, to rebut that or mitigate that concern."
But Palin did not list specific skills, instead giving a broad response while saying she would be happy to play "stump the candidate" on foreign policy issues.
"I think, because I am a Washington outsider, that opponents are going to be looking for a whole lot of things that they can criticize, and they can kind of beat the candidate here who chose me as his partner to kinda tear down the ticket," Palin responded. "But as for foreign policy, you know, I think I am prepared and I know that on Jan. 20, if we are so blessed as to be sworn into office as your president and vice president, certainly we’ll be ready. I’ll be ready. I have that confidence. I have that readiness, and if you want specifics with specific policy or countries, go ahead. You can ask, you can play ‘stump the candidate’ if you want to. But we are ready to serve."
When asked by a former Hillary Clinton supporter to give details and examples of her "strategies and plan for economic empowerment for women," Palin provided few specifics.
"Now, I was a product of Title IX, where legislation allowed that equal opportunity. Now, if we have to still keep going down that road to create more legislation, to get with it in the 21st century, to make sure that women do have equality, especially in the work place, then we’re there, because we understand that, in this age, we have all got to be working together," Palin said. "But yup, equality for women, for all, that’s going to be part of the agenda, and I thank you for that question."
McCain seemed happy to have Palin along for their first joint town hall, asking her to jump in on the conversation, notably on energy issues, which McCain’s campaign has been promoting as Palin’s strong suit. When asked by one voter how and where oil from offshore drilling could be secured, Palin cited her experience on energy issues in Alaska, saying she would work to make the resources that "belong to the people" available.
"It’s a matter of Congress allowing these lands to be tapped — the offshore drilling — the allowance given there, also, for safe, reliable and ethical drilling of these resources," Palin said. "Yes, the oil companies have the leases, the right to develop; they also have a duty to develop when it’s economic, when people are hurting, they need to tap those resources and get those sources flowing. That’s part of the reform that we’re going to usher in to D.C., and we did that up in Alaska."
But when asked how she would help keep any new domestic oil produced in the United States, Palin gave a less-than-well-articulated non-answer.
"Oil and coal? Of course, it’s a fungible commodity and they don’t flag, you know, the molecules, where it’s going and where it’s not. But in the sense of the Congress today, they know that there are very, very hungry domestic markets that need that oil first," Palin said. "So, I believe that what Congress is going to do, also, is not to allow the export bans to such a degree that it’s Americans that get stuck to holding the bag without the energy source that is produced here, pumped here. It’s got to flow into our domestic markets first."
Despite the feeling of something new and unique for their first meeting, the event still had many of the hallmarks of a typical McCain town hall –- and he’s had hundreds of them. He was asked about health care and social security, and thanked for his service in Vietnam. He asked veterans in the audience to stand, and they got a round of applause.
As if to pre-empt any question that might play up some of the differences between his positions and those of his running mate, McCain admitted at the beginning of the meeting that he and Palin didn’t always agree.
"And by the way, you may figure out from time to time, Sarah and I don’t agree on every issue," he said. "What do you expect of two mavericks?"
Indeed, later in the evening, a questioner asked Palin if she’d been able to convince McCain to support drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in her home state of Alaska, a measure she supports and he opposes.
"I’m still working on it," she said to applause.