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Fiesty Sarah fires them up in St. Paul

ST. PAUL - Sarah Palin says she is a small-town hockey mom, but Wednesday night introduced herself to the country as the Republican Party's first woman vice presidential candidate.

The 44-year-old Alaska governor showed her fiery side in a St. Paul convention hall that was alive like it had not been up to then during the Republican National Convention.

In a 36-minute speech, Palin emphasized her small-town roots, something heard little about from others at either major party's convention.

She said those in towns like hers are honest and sincere.

"They are the ones who do some of the hardest work in America - who grow our food, run our factories and fight our wars," she said.

Before launching her political career, she said, "I was just your average hockey mom, and signed up for the PTA because I wanted to make my kids' public education better,"

She became a city council member, then mayor, experience Democrats say is not enough for a vice president.

"And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves." Palin said. "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities."

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was a community organizer before going to the U.S. Senate.

GOP presidential candidate John McCain, who accepts his nomination tonight, made an unannounced appearance after Palin's speech, to the delight of Republicans.

"Don't you think we have made the right choice?" he asked to loud cheers. "And what a beautiful family."

Palin's family joined her on the stage, with each one getting a kiss from the vice presidential candidate.

Palin and other speakers attacked Obama Wednesday time after time, following the convention's first two nights that were subdued in light of Hurricane Gustav's arrival at the Gulf Coast.

Wednesday night was anything but subdued. Delegates -- fired up by former presidential contenders Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani - greeted Palin as a rock star, rattling the Excel Energy Center's rafters much like hockey fans do during Minnesota Wild hockey games in that arena.

Giuliani promised that Palin and McCain will shake up Washington.

"This is a woman who has no fear," the former New York City mayor said. "This is a woman who stands up for what is right."

The governor indicated that she would be a tough vice president.

"They say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull - lipstick," she said in ad-libbed remarks.

Palin delivered her speech in front of 20,000 convention attendees and a nationwide television audience.

She is the GOP's first woman vice presidential candidate and the second ever for a major party.

McCain arrived in the Twin Cities at mid-day Wednesday, greeted by two families -- his and Palin's.

When he went through the two families' receiving line, McCain lingered with Palin's 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, and her boyfriend, 18-year-old Levi Johnston. Palin and her husband, Todd, early this week announced that their daughter is five months pregnant.

St. Paul was quieter Wednesday than the previous two days of the convention, when about 300 demonstrators were arrested. Still, at least seven people were arrested Wednesday.

Palin showed her fight during the speech.

"I'm not a member of the permanent political establishment," she said. "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."

Palin also used her speech, interrupted by applause every few words, to praise McCain.

"In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers," she said, an obvious reference to Obama, whose them is "change we can believe in." "And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change."

She emphasized her support of drilling for more oil and building pipelines to deliver that oil to chants of "drill baby, drill."

She also repeated McCain's proposal to increase nuclear- and coal-based electrical production.

Republicans brushed aside criticism that time as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska - population less than 9,000 - does not qualify her to be vice president.

"When you denigrate one a mayor in one small town, you basically denigrate the mayors in all small towns," former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge told the Minnesota convention delegation.

That comment struck Minnesota alternate delegate Arles Kumpula of New York Mills.

"Small-town mayors have a lot of decisions to make, and they have to be made now," Kumpula said.

Being a mayor, even of a small town, requires more skills and judgment than Palin's critics have credit her with, Richard Koch said.

Koch, an alternate delegate from Jackson in far southwestern Minnesota, said Palin clearly has executive experience. He noted that she has led the Alaska National Guard as governor and handled budgets when she was mayor.


Delegate Brent Frazier of Pelican Rapids admitted "the tenure of her resume probably is not too lengthy," but said he is feels Palin can handle the job. He said he has heard no delegates complain about Palin.

The fact that Palin could become president worries Ashleigh Leitch, who was an alternate delegate to last week's Democratic National Convention in Denver.

"It's concerning to me since she has so little experience," she said. "It's really true given McCain's age and his health problems in the past. I think that's a valid point people are making. It's not ageist."

North Dakota GOP delegate Kelly Schmidt said she was not surprised by McCain's running mate choice, but still is excited by the pick. Schmidt dismissed the criticism that Palin lacks executive experience.

"She's a quick study," Schmidt said. "She's a maverick in her own way."

Palin will appeal to women because they understand her and admire her accomplishments, Schmidt said.

"We try to do it all and Sarah Palin is doing it all," Schmidt said.

McCain made the right decision in part because Palin will appeal to the party's conservatives. "She's extended that arm and is pulling them in."

The Alaska governor will balance the GOP presidential ticket because she complements the older, "more stoic" McCain.

"She's got energy, she's got enthusiasm," Schmidt said. "She's got that hop in her step."

Democrats have been tough on Palin since McCain announced that she was his running mate pick on Friday. Criticism ramped up Wednesday before she took to the Xcel stage.

She faces questions not only about firing her public safety commissioner as governor, but also firing a police chief when she was mayor.

Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, at the convention to tout Obama, said she people are going to continue to probe Palin's record in Alaska. For instance, she said, Palin supported the controversial "bridge to nowhere" before coming out against the federally earmarked project in her home state.

And, Kelliher added, Palin sought federal dollars for her city when she was mayor, but has since come out strongly against the earmarking process.

"I think that's an inconsistency that people are going to be interested in," Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said.

Kumpula predicted Palin will pick up many women voters who had supported Democrat U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton.

"They are women," she said. "Women tend to stick together."

"The female aspect is very exciting," Minnesota Rep. Torrey Westrom of Elbow Lake said. "She seems to be very much a resemblance of an American family."

Leitch said that Palin will not attract dejected Hillary Clinton supporters.

"I just don't see that happening at all since we left our convention so united and also because I think it's really demeaning to Sen. Clinton and her experience and the kind of campaign she's run to equate her with Gov. Palin," she said.

The right-wing part of the party likes Palin, Westrom said. "She really secures the conservatives."

Westrom and other Republicans said they feel comfortable with Palin being ready to take over for McCain if needed.

Westrom said he was "a silent supporter" of Palin, in part because she is an outsider, much like Pawlenty would have brought to the McCain ticket.

"She is a maverick, like Sen. McCain," delegate Brent Frazier of Pelican Rapids said.

Palin's lack of foreign policy background is troubling, Kelliher said. That is an area in which a candidate for vice president should have some experience, she added.

"It's probably a pretty importance piece of it," she said.

Kelliher said Pawlenty, who was a McCain running mate finalist, has more experience than Palin. Pawlenty has served as governor longer and leads a state with a more diverse economy than Alaska's.

"I think there's questions about her experience, her 20 months in office and whether that is enough to have her ready to go on Day 1 if need be," Kelliher said, and "to really be a partner in governing and to potentially be president of the United States.

McCain surrogates spread out across the Twin Cities Wednesday to pump up delegates and tell reporters about Palin's qualities. Among them was Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

"I am spending some time with people who may not be fully with us yet," he said.

"I think she amplifies" McCain strengths such as his reform tendency, Pawlenty said.

Ridge said others cannot pick a McCain running mate. "The best fit for John is the person who John picked."