Palin defends federal fund requests

WASHINGTON -- Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin on Friday blasted wasteful federal spending and insisted that she opposed the infamous "bridge to nowhere" project she had once championed.

In her third interview with ABC News, the Alaska governor also defended her request for about $198 million in federal funds for special projects and said Democrat Barack Obama regrets not picking Hillary Rodham Clinton as his vice presidential choice. ABC is the first network to interview Palin since she was named by John McCain on Aug. 29 to be his running mate.

Palin insisted that she never backed a proposed $398 million bridge from Ketchikan to its airport on a nearby island, but was instead interested in obtaining money to improve Alaska's infrastructure. She withdrew her support for the bridge after it became a symbol of wasteful spending added by members of Congress for special projects, known as earmarks.

"I was for infrastructure being built in the state. And it's not inappropriate for a mayor or for a governor to request and to work…with their congressmen, their congresswomen, to plug into the federal budget along with every other state a share of the federal budget for infrastructure," Palin said.

McCain has targeted wasteful spending in his presidential campaign and does not seek earmarks for his home state of Arizona. Palin said the abuse of earmarks "has always been an embarrassment."

In her interview, Palin defended herself when Gibson pressed her on Alaska's $155 million in earmarks for fiscal year 2008, amounting to what he said was about $231 per capita compared with earmarks of roughly $22 per person in Illinois. Palin insisted that she "drastically reduced" the state's earmark request.

The governor asked for about $198 million for 31 state projects for fiscal year 2009, according to a letter and supporting documents she sent to Alaska's congressional delegation. In 2007, Palin asked for 52 earmarks valued at $256 million.

McCain, appearing earlier in the day on ABC's The View, insisted that his running mate made no requests for earmarks. "Not as governor," he said.

In her interview, Palin also became defensive when Gibson asked her about some specific funding requests, such as for research on the genetics of harbor seals and the mating habits of crab. Palin said those requests came from state researchers and were approved in the public eye, "not behind closed doors, with lobbyists making deals with Congress to stick things in there under the public radar."

Palin railed against "the abuse of earmarks," saying it is "un-American" and "undemocratic" and vowing the practice will stop under a McCain-Palin administration.

Damien LaVera, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said McCain "lied on national television about Palin's history of asking for the very earmarks she and McCain now claim to oppose."

In other topics:

• Clinton: Palin praised the New York senator for her "determination, and grit, and even grace through some tough shots that were fired her way." The Alaska governor has made an explicit appeal to supporters of Clinton, who lost the Democratic nomination to Obama.

• Abortion: On one of several issues where she and McCain differ, Palin said she personally believes abortion should only be allowed when the woman's life is in danger. McCain is less restrictive and believes abortion is acceptable in cases of rape and incest. "I do understand McCain's position on this," she said. "I do understand others who are very passionate about this issue." Both Republicans support reversing Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that made abortion a constitutional right.

• Stem-cell research: She also differs with McCain on this issue. "We should not create an embryo to destroy it," Palin said. McCain is one of several Republicans in Congress who supports more federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

• Guns: The lifetime member of the National Rifle Association said she would fight any ban on semi-automatic assault weapons.

Friday's interview first aired on World News Tonight. More of the interview will be broadcast later Friday on 20/20.

On Thursday, Gibson interviewed Palin on her readiness to serve, if necessary, as president and on national security and foreign policy issues. She defended her credentials and struck an aggressive stance toward Iran's nuclear development and on Russia, whom she blamed for the recent attack of Georgia.

Thursday's interview also drew a distinction between Palin and McCain on the subject of oil drilling. He opposes development on the massic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, known as ANWR; Palin supports it. Palin also shifted her views on global warming, saying "man's activities" contribute to climate change. Last year, she said she did not attribute global warming to human activity.

The GOP ticket has risen in the polls since McCain and Palin accepted their party's nominations last week. The Gallup daily tracking poll on Friday showed McCain leading Obama, 48%-45%.