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Sarah Palin showed she's ready to check her opponents into the boards

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 3, 2008 - Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin came prepared for a fight like the tough hockey mom she is Wednesday night, swinging back at critics and the media for turning her limited experience and family situation into the latest focus of this year's presidential campaign.

Amid repeated and extended cheers from delegates, Palin accepted the GOP vice presidential nomination with a strong, occasionally pugnacious speech lasting nearly 40 minutes. She celebrated life in small-town, blue-collar America, praised the presidential candidacy of GOP nominee John McCain, and drew sharp distinctions between him and the Democratic nominee Barack Obama.

In the process, she tried to get beyond critics who have dwelled on her unmarried teen-aged daughter's pregnancy and raised questions about her fitness to be vice president. In introducing her family in the audience, five children and her husband, she tried to connect them to average Americans by saying the Palin family " has the same ups and downs as any other ... the same challenges and the same joys. Sometimes even the greatest joys bring challenge."

Palin hit on some of this election year's major campaign themes, including defense, taxes and especially energy, where she displayed some policy prowess and revved up the audience. She also tried to reach out to average Americans by calling attention to those out of work in key swing states like Ohio and Michigan and those whose livelihoods she said would be threatened by tax hikes being proposed by Obama.

But her criticism of Obama, though less harsh, dovetailed with the sharper attacks by those who spoke before her, especially former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Her comments about core GOP policies drew extended applause, and the audience booed policies that she linked to what the Democrats would do about taxes and the war in Iraq if the Obama-Biden team won in November.

Much of her speech was devoted to taking on Obama. She portrayed him as an elitist, accusing him of talking about blue-collar Americans one way in Scranton and another in San Francisco. She derided him and other Democrats who had questioned the depth of her political experience as a mayor of a small town in Alaska before winning the governor's race. She told delegates she felt privileged for "living most of my life in a small town" -- and implicitly compared herself to Harry S Truman.

She said, "Our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience," then slyly added that "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a `community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities."

The "community organizer" comment was an apparent reference to Obama's work after he earned his law degree from Harvard.

The Obama campaign is certain to question some of her statements about his policy proposals. She implied, for example, that he would raise taxes across the board – an idea widely booed by Republican delegates – but Obama has, in fact, said he would reduce taxes for 95 percent of Americans.

In addition, she said she had opposed the much criticized "bridge to nowhere" earmark in Alaska, but critics say Palin initially accepted the bridge plan and opposed it only after public criticism.

For the most part, delegates seemed enthusiastic about what they saw and heard. How much she helps the campaign win over undecided, independent voters has yet to be seen.

At the end of her address, the crowd gave Palin extended applause when her family came to the stage. Then McCain made a surprise appearance. He, too, seemed pleased by the electricity that Palin brought to Xcel Energy Center during the second night of the convention.

Still unclear is whether her appearance and speech will head off the initial questions about whether the McClain team thoroughly checked her background before he announced her as his running mate or whether he chose her on short notice, an issue that critics say would speak volumes about his manner of making decisions.

She dismissed media criticism with one line: She is going to Washington not to seek the media's approval but "to serve the people of this country."

In any case, Palin lived up to the her self-professed image as a fighter and what she said about McCain might also apply to her: He doesn't welcome a fight, but he isn't going to back away from one.

Robert Joiner has carved a niche in providing informed reporting about a range of medical issues. He won a Dennis A. Hunt Journalism Award for the Beacon’s "Worlds Apart" series on health-care disparities. His journalism experience includes working at the St. Louis American and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he was a beat reporter, wire editor, editorial writer, columnist, and member of the Washington bureau.

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