ST. PAUL, Minn. - Sarah Palin, the Alaskan Governor selected by John McCain as his
running mate, hit back at the media last night, telling her critics to
stop raking through her family and political history.
As Mrs Palin took centre stage at the Republican National Convention in St
Paul, Minnesota, to accept the nomination as potential vice-president, she
said: "I'm not a member of the permanent political establishment. And
I've learned quickly, these past few days, that if you're not a member in
good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a
candidate unqualified for that reason alone.
"But here's a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators:
I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion - I'm going to
Washington to serve the people of this country."
Before Mrs Palin gave her speech, one of her top aides told broadcasters to
leave her alone. "This nonsense is over," he said.
Mrs Palin's speech was a bold assault that betrayed a growing unease among
Republican campaign managers that the frenzy of reporting about the Governor
and her family could spin out of control and severely damage Mr McCain and
his running-mate. But it also fuelled speculation there might be more
damaging revelations waiting to pop out from Mrs Palin's deep cupboard of
A warning came from their most senior campaign enforcer, Steve Schmidt, a
protégé of Karl Rove, former aide to George Bush. He accused journalists of
creating a "faux media scandal designed to destroy the first female
Republican nominee" for the vice-presidency.
Contributing to Republican jitters is the gradual but steady progress Barack
Obama has been making in the polls since the end of the Democratic
convention in Denver. For the first time in the campaign, Mr Obama broke the
50 per cent threshold of support.
Last night's speech was a make-or-break moment for the 44-year-old Alaska
Governor and for the whole campaign. After being held behind closed doors by
a nervous campaign, she used the moment to redefine herself to voters. That
she would get a rapturous reception in the hall was not in doubt. How she
will play in the rest of the country is another matter.
With her admonition to the press, the campaign was, for the first time,
acknowledging that it has taken some heavy hits since Mrs Palin was brought
on to the ticket less than a week ago. Those have included news of the
pregnancy of her daughter, Bristol, 17. She and Levi Johnston, the father of
the unborn child, were at the arena last night to see her speak. Todd Palin,
the Governor's husband, who has become known in Alaska as "First Dude",
had also flown in for the speech.
But a fast trickle of other details have been coming to light that are
worrying the Republicans and have fed the impression that the decision to
select Mrs Palin was last minute and the vetting of her was rushed.
These include news that Todd Palin belonged to the radical Alaska Nationalist
Party, that the Governor hired a lawyer to defend her in an ethics inquiry
ordered by the state legislature and that, as mayor of Wasilla, she hired a
lobbyist in Washington to steer so-called "earmarks" - gifts of
federal money - to her town, a practice especially favoured by Alaskans that
has been derided by Mr McCain.
It emerged earlier yesterday, meanwhile, that the main vetting interview of
Mrs Palin took place in Arizona only last Wednesday, one day before Mr
McCain offered her his No.2 spot. It is speculation that the vetting was
botched that seems now to be getting under the campaign's skin the most. "The
McCain campaign will have no further comment about our long and thorough
process," Mr Schmidt said, before adding that the media was run by "the
old boys' network".
It marks a strange, if not entirely unpredictable, collapse of what, for
years, has been an unusually symbiotic relationship between Mr McCain and
the press. His willingness to invite reporters close while on the road and
discuss almost any topic with them was well known, and was said to explain
why he enjoyed mostly positive coverage.
This week has seen a steadily growing chorus of attacks by the McCain campaign
team. On Tuesday, they told CNN they were withdrawing the candidate from a
promised interview with Larry King because they did not like the tone of an
interview earlier in the day with a campaign spokesman about Mrs Palin.
The chief spokesman for Mr Obama, Robert Gibbs, acknowledged that Mrs Palin
would make a "great speech". However, he noted that she had
supported Alaska receiving federal money for the so-called "bridge to
nowhere", before retracting that support. The bridge project, which was
stillborn, is held by Mr McCain as a symbol of the government wasting money.
Obama breaks 50% barrier
The Obama campaign finally broke through the 50 percentage point barrier
yesterday. Observers had been openly questioning the Illinois senator's
ability to "close the deal" and convert anti-Republican public
sentiment into a strong lead over his rival John McCain. A smaller than
expected bounce in the polls after the Democrat convention last week sparked
fresh fears, but the Gallup daily tracking poll found that since the
convention, support for Mr Obama has risen by five percentage points and he
now leads Mr McCain by 50 per cent to 42 per cent.