This 'hockey mom' takes GOP limelight


Self-described "hockey mom" Sarah Palin put her elbows into the political fray Wednesday, pushing back against a whirlwind of controversy that has swirled around her since she was picked as the GOP's vice presidential nominee.

With signs of "Palin Power" and "Hockey Moms 4 Palin" waving, the delegates gave more than three minutes of cheers before she could begin her keynote speech at the Republican National Convention.

"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," she said.

That line brought the crowd to its feet, booing Palin's critics.

"But here's a little news flash for those reporters and commentators," she continued. "I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion — I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this great country."

She also made much of her time as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and governor of Alaska.

"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities," Palin said.

As she has all week, she received the public support of key members of the GOP, who all spoke glowingly of Palin's leadership.

"Sarah Palin will not try to reinvent herself during this campaign," said Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, a fellow Republican governor.

Earlier in the day, as the Palin story boiled over on TV and around the Xcel Energy Center, one thing was clear: John McCain might be running for president, but it's Palin who is stealing the show.

Palin has gone from little-known surprise to refreshing change of pace to lightning rod of criticism for and against — all in the space of less than a week. Through it all, she was shielded from media questions and prepared for her moment in the spotlight Wednesday night.

But that didn't mean that the McCain campaign and the GOP didn't take the offensive during the day. They began hitting back over liberal blogs and other media outlets reporting on every aspect of Palin's life, including her children. Mainstream media questioned Palin's qualifications in stories and on cable TV. Even Karl Rove, the architect of the two Bush victories, said Palin's pick was "not a governing decision but a campaign decision."

"We have seen supermarket tabloids that not only support Barack Obama putting these smears on the cover but also shout with massive headlines about sex and babies and lies," said Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and a key McCain adviser.

"You would think the liberal media smelled blood in the water in the way there was a media frenzy," said Leslie Sanchez, a Republican strategist and CNN analyst.

TV and many print outlets had spent several days in between RNC and hurricane coverage looking at Palin's record and mostly avoiding some of the seamier rumors and invasions of her family's privacy. But on Wednesday, the media spent a fair amount of time looking at their own treatment. And in some ways, the debate was fueled by the fact that the Palin story is unlike what the country has come to expect.

For Sanchez, Palin looks a lot like the middle-class woman she does focus groups with in out-of-the-Beltway places like Iowa and Pennsylvania.

"She's the Central Casting example of middle class," Sanchez said. "She dresses like the women I interview, she talks like them, her cadences, her mannerisms, her spirit, and her wanting to get things done."

And despite Palin getting battered in some quarters of the media, Sanchez thinks the vice presidential nominee will play well in hometown America.

"Housewives in Daytona are not necessarily interested in the editorial page of the New York Times," Sanchez said.

But at least two media experts don't think Palin is being treated any differently than any other candidate whose qualifications have come into question. Think Dan Quayle, who was raked over the coals in the media 20 years ago after being named George H.W. Bush's running mate.

"It's certainly created a buzz around the candidate but not the buzz that the McCain campaign was hoping for," said Tom Fiedler, dean of the Boston University College of Communication and former executive editor of the Miami Herald.

Fielder said the McCain campaign risked losing control of the coverage when it picked someone who hadn't been considered a serious contender and, as a result, wasn't vetted by the press ahead of time. He said it's unrealistic to expect the national media is just going to parrot the campaign's story line about Palin.

"It's almost naive to a surprising degree. It's going to be the role of the media here to attempt to paint as full and complete a picture of Sarah Palin and her family as they possibly can," Fiedler said. "It's untidy and messy when the media goes to work."

NBC's Brian Williams doesn't buy the attempts to paint the whole media with the same brush when it comes to criticism of the Palin coverage.

"We have to be judged individually," Williams said.

"People take very seriously who has their finger on the button, who is going to be in charge of our country in a time of uncertainty, who is going to be setting policy not only today but for the future," said Leonard Steinhorn, a professor of communication at American University in Washington. "You're going to see this thorough, absolutely massive coverage simply because of who she is."

The McCain camp has kept Palin from the press and the questions that would come up, a strategy that might or might not have worked so far. But at some point, Steinhorn said, she'll have to face reporters' questions.

"She can't run for the vice presidency in a bubble. She's going to have to face the press," he said. "I think it reflects their extreme nervousness as to whether she's ready. They don't want her to be the second Dan Quayle." (partialdiff)