McCain Sticks by VP Pick; Calls Palin 'Spectacular,' Ready to Lead

In interview with Charles Gibson, McCain praises Alaska governor, slams Obama.


Sept. 3, 2008— -- As he prepares to accept the Republican Party's nomination for president, John McCain says that he is pleased with his embattled choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate, highlighting her experience as a governor and crusader for reform.

"We've got a spectacular running mate here that has really captured America," the Arizona senator told "World News" anchor Charles Gibson in an exclusive interview in St. Paul today. McCain said that his choice has "an incredible resume including a beautiful family."

"She is experienced, she's talented, she knows how to lead and she has been vetted by the people of the state of Alaska," McCain said.

"Americans are going to be very, very, very pleased," McCain said. "She's really going to have a remarkable impact on the American people. … I'm very excited."

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

McCain introduced his vice presidential pick Friday during a televised campaign event in Dayton, Ohio, bringing the Alaska governor into the national spotlight.

The choice has enlivened core conservative voters -- McCain raised more than $47 million in campaign donations in August, nearly $10 million of which came after he announced that Palin, an anti-abortion rights conservative, would be on the ticket.

But the surprise pick has also sparked questions about Palin's background and the McCain campaign's vetting process.

Earlier this week, Palin announced in a statement that her 17-year-old unmarried daughter, Bristol, is pregnant and intends to marry the father. Other revelations include the fact that Palin is in the midst of an ethics investigation in Alaska into whether she inappropriately fired a state employee for personal reasons.

McCain reportedly met with Palin once, for a three-hour discussion, before officially selecting her to be his running mate.

"The people of Alaska have vetted her," he said. "She has a proven record. … She's had positions of responsibility and authority," McCain said in defense of his choice, citing Palin's 80 percent approval rating.

McCain also highlighted their common role as "mavericks" within the Republican Party and Palin's ability to bring reform to the GOP.

The Arizona senator said that American voters "want people who will come and stand up for change and do whatever is necessary. She took on her own party. You'd have to describe to me one occasion where Sen. [Barack] Obama took on anybody, any powerful interest in his own party."

Obama's Accomplishments: 'Very Meager'

Before being selected by McCain, Palin served two years as Alaska's governor. Before that, she was the mayor of Wasilla, a relatively small town in Alaska where she was raised. In response to criticism of Palin's experience, McCain spoke of Palin's experience as "the governor of our largest state, the commander of their National Guard" and said that Obama's accomplishments "are very meager" in comparison.

McCain also lists among Palin's credentials her understanding of energy issues, and the proximity of her state to Russia.

The Obama campaign has pointed to the small population and budget of Alaska compared with other states, and stated that Obama has had more executive experience leading his campaign.

"Sen. Obama has a campaign to run, Gov. Sarah Palin has 24,000 employees in the state government," McCain said. "She's responsible for 20 percent of the nation's energy supply. I'm entertained by the comparison and I hope we can keep making that comparison that running a political campaign is somehow comparable to being the executive of the largest state in America."

McCain said receiving the nomination of the Republican Party was "humbling" and spoke about what he would say in his speech.

"I think we've got to make a case that I'm ready, that I put my country first, and it's time to put aside partisan rancor and differences and work together for the country and that I can create jobs and restore our economy and keep our country safe."

"I admire and respect Sen. Obama," McCain said. "He has accomplished great things and he has motivated people, and he loves his country, just as I do."

McCain said he watched excerpts from Obama's speech last week.

In that speech Obama said of McCain, "[He] likes to say that he'll follow [Osama] bin Laden to the gates of hell, but he won't even go to the cave where he lives."

"[Former President] Clinton had opportunities to get Osama bin Laden. President Bush had opportunities to get Osama bin Laden. I know how to do it, and I'll do it," McCain said.

"I understand and I have the knowledge and the background and the experience to make the right judgments. Sen. Obama does not. He was wrong on Iraq. He underestimated Iran. He has no knowledge or experience or judgment. He doesn't know how, how the world works nor how the military works. I do and I can lead and I'll secure the peace," McCain said in his interview with Gibson.

The two candidates differ dramatically on their positions regarding the Iraq War and the war on terror.

"No rational observer would deny that we succeeded and he refuses to do so," McCain said, speaking of the Iraq troop surge. "What he did was motivated by political reasons to get the far left of his party's support and get the party's nomination."

Republican Convention Speeches Highlight Service

On Tuesday, the Republicans geared up the convention after Monday's pared-down schedule due to Hurricane Gustav, with speeches from former Sen. Fred Thompson and independent Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.

McCain reportedly considered choosing Lieberman, a former Democratic vice presidential nominee, as his running mate, but backed away after many warnings from campaign advisers that Lieberman's position on abortion rights would alienate McCain's core constituency.

"Both presidential candidates this year talk about changing the culture of Washington, about breaking through the partisan gridlock and special interests that are poisoning our politics. But only one of them has actually done it," Lieberman said.

Lieberman also highlighted McCain's ability to cross party lines during his long career in the 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."

President Bush addressed the crowd via satellite, praising McCain's service and ability to lead.

"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," Bush said. "The man we need is John McCain."

The McCain campaign is set to release a new television ad today entitled "Alaska Maverick," spotlighting Palin's commitment to reform and taking on the special interests in Alaska. The ad contrasts Obama's promise of change with what the campaign says is Palin's record of change.

Palin's highly anticipated speech tonight is her first on the national stage, and McCain said he was confident that she was up to the challenge.

"I believe … tonight's performance will convince a lot of Americans and a lot of this other stuff will go away immediately."

In addition to the presumptive vice presidential nominee, tonight's convention schedule also includes speeches by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, McCain's competitors from the primary season.

The convention's theme today is set as "prosperity," but Palin's remarks will largely be focused on "reform," McCain campaign officials said.

On the eve of his acceptance, McCain said that he is trying to appreciate the moment.

"I've had so much good fortune in my life that it's incredible to come to this stage of a journey that's been full of opportunities to serve."