Republicans Tout McCain's Service; GOP Convention Distracted by Palin Revelations

All Eyes Now on VP Pick Gov. Sarah Palin and Her Wednesday Night RNC Speech


St. Paul, Minn., Sept. 3, 2008 — -- Republicans fired up their convention Tuesday night with speeches praising presumptive GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, but the party faithful and a curious nation awaits vice presidential nominee, Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin, who takes the podium tonight.

The speech of her life -- her first national address -- could be a make-or-break moment for the 44-year-old governor.

The little-known politician and her family became the center of attention this week after Palin released a stunning statement in which she said her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant and intends to keep the baby and marry the young father.

Watch the ABC News live special with Charlie Gibson, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos from the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis/St.Paul at 10 p.m. ET on ABC

Palin made an early morning trip to the Xcel Center in St. Paul today. She stood at the podium and tried to get a feel for the size of the arena and where she should look to be most comfortable when she steps into the spotlight about 10 p.m. tonight.

The crowd of Republicans in the convention hall will be the largest audience she's ever addressed, and that doesn't include the millions who will be watching from home on TV. Among those expected to be applauding from the convention hall and sitting with the Palin family will be her future son-in-law, 18-year-old Levi Johnston.

"Of course it's a high-stakes night," Rudy Giuliani, the one-time presidential candidate who will be giving the keynote address tonight, told "Good Morning America."

"She's got to make a good speech tonight, answer the questions well, and she's got to show good instincts. I think she's going to show all that," the former New York mayor said.

Giuliani said the furor over her daughter's pregnancy, charges that she lacked necessary experience to be vice president, and her questions about whether she could be the vice president and the mother of five children are unfair.

"Let's give her a chance to explain herself," Giuliani told "GMA." I mean she hasn't even had a chance to make her first speech and we're jumping all over her."

Geraldine Ferraro, the Democrat who made history as the first female vice presidential candidate of a major political party, said the question of whether Palin could be a mother and VP wasn't being raised as a partisan attack.

"Those questions are being raised more by women than men," Ferraro told "GMA."

Giuliani said he was confident Palin would be a hit.

"She's got tremendous ability as a speaker. I've seen her speak, so I think she'll do very, very well. The expectations are high, but I think she'll more than meet them and exceed them," he said.

Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist who worked on the presidential bids of former Gov. Howard Dean and former Sen. John Edwards, said interest is building for Palin's acceptance speech.

"All this controversy's going to create a huge audience for her speech whether she walks out there and blows it or hits it out of the park," Trippi told while walking around the Republican convention hall.

"With every question, with every controversy, the audience gets bigger so that when she walks out there -- it could be one of the most dramatic moments of either convention," Trippi said.

Speechwriter and McCain confidant Mark Salter seemed confident that she would exceed expectations.

"She's going to impress all of America the way she impressed all of us," Salter said.

One surprising person who will be watching Palin's back is the Democrat Ferraro.

Ferraro, who had complained that Sen. Hillary Clinton was subjected to sexism during her losing presidential bid, told "GMA" that Palin was open to questions about her experience. But she and others, she warned, "will be watching ... no sexism."

The Republican convention program begins tonight at 7 pm. ET, with speeches by McCain campaign co-chair Meg Whitman who will talk about the economy and adviser Carly Firorina, who willlay out what a first term of a McCain administration would look like.

"We will delve into issue of trade, economics, health care, economics with a special focus on energy and the environment," McCain campaign manager told reporters on a conference call Wednesday morning.

Former McCain rivals former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Mike Huckabee will also speak, drawing a "sharper contrast in their speeches tonight describing what John McCain will do for country as opposed to his Democratic opponents," Davis said.

After the Giuliani speech, Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle will introduce Palin, who will accept the party's vice presidential nomination.

After Palin's speech, there will be a roll call vote tonight culminating in John McCain becoming the Republican nominee.

"We're getting a little bit more political tonight than we did before…focusing on the campaign going forward," Davis said.

Davis attacked the media for writing stories about Palin's daughter's pregnancy.

"The salacious nature in which these outlets have been trying to throw dirt at our candidate is inappropriate," Davis said.

"There has been a negative reaction to pursuing these kinds of stories," Davis said.

The McCain campaign continued to defend their vice presidential pick Wednesday.

"She has appealed to a wide variety of voters, Republicans and Independents alike," Davis said.

President Touts McCain: 'Ready to Lead'

Attempting to seize back control of the Republican message, Tuesday night's covention program was dedicated to a biographical sketch of Republican presidential nominee John McCain, and focused on his service to the nation as a fighter pilot, a prisoner of war and a longtime U.S. senator, though McCain did not appear at the convention in person.

The convention program was brought to a standstill when former President George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush walked into the convention hall to take their seats.

The crowd jumped to its feet, cheering and applauding as the Bushes waved and shook hands with well-wishers.

The speaker at the podium, Minnesota fire department captain Shanna Hanson, could only stand and applaud the former first couple herself.

Instead of running away from the Bush administration, the convention highlighted it to the delight of Republican delegates, many of whom represent the conservative base of the party.

Former Bush strategist Karl Rove waved to the crowd from the Fox News booth inside the convention hall Monday night and got a huge cheer. Delegates on the floor waved signs that read "Country First" and "Service" -- highlighting Tuesday night's theme.

President also addressed the Republican faithful.

The president appeared via satellite for an eight-minute speech from the White House Cross Hall.

Speaking via satellite after Hurricane Gustav wrecked havoc with the first day of Republican gathering, Bush referenced the storm, saying, "We are thankful that the damage in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast was less than many had feared," while lauding the efforts of GOP governors in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Bush touted McCain, his 2000 Republican nomination rival, and Palin, saying, "John McCain's life has prepared him to make those choices. He is ready to lead this nation," Bush said.

Highlighting the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Bush said, "We live in a dangerous world. And we need a president who understands the lessons of Sept. 11, 2001: that to protect America, we must stay on the offense, stop attacks before they happen, and not wait to be hit again. The man we need is John McCain."

Of the Alaska governor, Bush said, "I am optimistic about something else: When the debates have ended, and all the ads have run, and it is time to vote, Americans will look closely at the judgment, the experience and the policies of the candidates, and they will cast their ballots for the McCain-Palin ticket."

The Obama campaign fired back Tuesday, arguing Bush has "passed the torch" to McCain.

"Tonight, George Bush enthusiastically passed the torch to the man who's earned it by voting with him 90 percent of the time, and who will continue this president's legacy for the next four years -- his disastrous economic policies, his foreign policy that hasn't made us safer, and his misguided war in Iraq that's costing us $10 billion a month. The man George Bush needs may be John McCain, but the change America needs is Barack Obama," said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe.

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, the "Law and Order" star who abandoned his own presidential bid, went after Barack Obama on abortion rights.

"We need a president who doesn't think that the protection of the unborn or a newly born baby is above his pay grade," Thompson said.

Thompson also defended Palin.

"What a breath of fresh air Sarah Palin is!" he said to to wild applause from the crowd.

"Let's be clear: The selection of Gov. Palin has the other side and their friends in the media in a state of panic," Thompson said. "She is a courageous, successful reformer who is not afraid to take on the establishment."

Thompson said he believes McCain and Palin will "take the federal bureaucracy by the scruff of the neck and give it a good shaking."

Thompson emphasized McCain's military service in Vietnam, and argued his character and judgment were defined by his experience as a prisoner of war.

"John McCain cannot raise his arms above his shoulders. He cannot salute the flag of the country for which he sacrificed so much. Tonight, as we begin this convention week, yes, we stand with him. And we salute him. We salute his character and his courage," Thompson said.

The keynote address by Rudy Giuliani, another vanquished McCain rival, was originally scheduled for Tuesday but has been pushed back to Wednesday night.

Lieberman Touts 'Maverick' McCain

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent and one-time Democratic vice presidential candidate talked about McCain's "maverick" status in the Republican party, how he has reached across the aisle to work with Democrats in the U.S. Senate.

"What, after all, is a Democrat like me doing at a Republican convention like this?" Lieberman said. "The answer is simple. I'm here to support John McCain because country matters more than party. I'm here tonight because John McCain is the best choice to bring our country together and lead our country forward. I'm here because John McCain's whole life testifies to a great truth: Being a Democrat or a Republican is important. But it is not more important than being an American.

"What you can expect from John McCain as president is precisely what he has done this week: which is to put country first," Lieberman said. "That is the code by which he has lived his entire life, and that is the code he will carry with him into the White House. I have personally seen John over and over again bring people together from both parties to tackle our toughest problems we face."

In a moving tribute to McCain's military history, Lt. Col. Orson Swindel, a fellow prisoner of war who served with McCain, acknowledged 23 fellow prisoners of war who were in the convention hall.

At one point, Cindy McCain's eyes welled up with tears as Wes Gullett, a friend of the McCain's, led his adopted daughter, Nicki, onstage and told the crowd how Cindy McCain rescued his daughter and McCain daughter Bridget from Mother Theresa's orphanage in Bangladesh.

"Cindy McCain saved those babies 17 years ago, and those girls have grown up to be beautiful young women," Gullett said.

"Nikki, we're proud you're our American girl," Gullett said to his daughter in front of the crowd. "And we're proud of Cindy McCain, who brought you and Bridget home to this great country. I think America will be an even better place with Cindy, and her husband, John, in the White House."

Yet it was Palin who dominated headlines Tuesday.

The McCain campaign insist there have been no surprises and that Palin completed a 70-page questionnaire and was interviewed "for hours" by McCain lawyers last month.

In an interview with, McCain surrogate South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham defended McCain's choice of Palin as his vice presidential nominee.

"What if John had said, 'I'm sorry but I can't pick you because of this'? Then people would have lost respect for him," Graham said of Palin's daughter's pregnancy. "None of us want 17-year-old pregnancies but how you handle it is the important thing."

Of the media focus now on Palin's personal life, Graham said, "This reinforces she has a loving family and handles adversity well."

Asked whether she was the right VP pick for the Republicans in light of the disclosures this week, Graham said, "We're trying to change things in Washington. If she can do for Washington what she did for Alaska -- homerun pick."

The White House on Tuesday deflected questions about the Palin disclosure.

"President Bush, having talked to him just quickly about it [Monday], believes that this is a private family matter, and that the family obviously loves their daughter very much, and that this baby, when it is born, will have the full love and support of a very loving family. And the president I don't think will have any other comment on it," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Tuesday.

Since Palin joined Republican John McCain on the Republican ticket there have been stories that she was once a member of the Alaska Independence Party, never had a passport or traveled overseas until last year, that her husband was arrested 22 years ago on a drunken driving charge, and that she pushed for $27 million worth of federal earmarks into a bill for the tiny town of Wasilla while she was its mayor.

She is also the center of a legislative ethics investigation in Alaska into whether she abused her power in dismissing the state's public safety commissioner over a family dispute with a former brother in law who was an Alaska trooper, who was allegedly abusive toward Palin's family members.

Republican fears were highlighted when US Weekly, a popular entertainment magazine, put a picture of Palin holding her fifth child, 4-month-old Trig, on its cover with a headline that screamed "BABIES, LIES & SCANDAL."

The party's leaders and many of the delegates publicly expressed support for Palin and said the issues being raised so far are not enough to disqualify her. But privately, they are waiting to see how she performs.

"I think what a lot of Republican operatives and delegates here are asking is what else is out there about Gov. Palin?" ABC News' George Stephanopoulos told "Good Morning America" Tuesday.

"Was the vetting process complete and professional? ... And finally, what does it say about Sen. McCain's judgment that he chose someone with no national security experience?" Stephanopoulos said.

Watch ABC's George Stephanopoulos' exclusive interview with Barack Obama this Sunday on 'This Week with George Stephanopoulos'

ABC News' Kate Snow, Katie Hinman, Lindsey Ellerson, John Berman, Ursula Fahy, Rick Klein and Karen Travers contributed to this report.

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