Ahead Of Convention, McCain Campaigns

On Friday, Sen. John McCain picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate for the GOP presidential ticket. Palin has a reputation for independence and was once voted Miss Congeniality in a beauty pageant. Some question her experience, however.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. All the names on the ballot have been filled in, and the race for the White House picks up today in Pennsylvania. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have a busy weekend of campaigning ahead, running mates at their sides. Now we'll hear from the Obama-Biden camp in a moment. First, on the road with John McCain and his surprise choice for vice president, the governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: When John McCain wants to tout his independent streak, he sometimes jokes that he was passed over again for the title of Miss Congeniality in the U.S. Senate. His new running mate can't tell that joke. Sarah Palin was chosen Miss Congeniality 24 years ago in a Wasilla, Alaska, beauty pageant. That's just part of Palin's colorful biography that Americans will soon be learning a lot more about. Despite her beauty pageant manners, the woman McCain introduced to a packed basketball arena in Dayton, Ohio, yesterday has a reputation for crusading against corruption and wasteful spending almost as strong as McCain's own.

(Soundbite of crowd ovation)

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican Presidential Nominee, Arizona): She's fought oil companies and party bosses and do-nothing bureaucrats and anyone who puts their interests before the interests of the people she swore an oath to serve.

HORSLEY: Palin is a mother of five, a former commercial fisherwoman, and a lifetime member of the NRA. She says she got into politics almost by accident.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican Vice-Presidential Nominee, Alaska): I was just your average hockey mom in Alaska. I got involved in the PTA, and then was elected to the City Council, and then elected mayor of my hometown where my agenda was to stop wasteful spending and cut property taxes and put the people first.

HORSLEY: Palin looked at ease yesterday in speaking to a crowd of 15,000, even though almost no one expected her to be in this position. McCain's campaign managed to keep his selection a secret until just before the announcement. Palin and her family spent the previous night in a Dayton hotel under a phony name, the Uptons. At first, even her children were kept in the dark. They thought they were in Ohio to celebrate their parents' 20th anniversary. Not everyone in the arena was happy with McCain's surprise.

Mr. PHIL RAMSETTER(ph) (Republican Voter, Ohio): He said he was going to pick someone that he believed could be a commander in chief and had the credentials to be commander in chief.

HORSLEY: Phil Ramsetter of Cincinnati showed up wearing a Mitt Romney t-shirt, only to be disappointed.

Mr. RAMSETTER: And then he picked somebody who's been governor of Alaska for a year. I'm skeptical of her leadership abilities, I guess, I would say.

HORSLEY: Palin's lack of foreign policy experience could make it harder for McCain to level that charge against Barack Obama. McCain's staff tried to buff up Palin's security credentials, noting her role as commander of Alaska's National Guard and pointing out that her oldest son will soon be deployed to Iraq with his Army infantry unit. Several people in the crowd said they know almost nothing about Palin. Rich Braggs(ph), who lives near Dayton, says what he does know, he likes.

Mr. RICH BRAGGS: I heard - I just briefly read that she's a budget slasher. She can keep expenses in line. And I'm excited about her. I think it brings some excitement to the ticket.

HORSLEY: Palin made a special appeal to women voters, promising to shatter the glass ceiling that Hillary Clinton puts so many cracks in.

(Soundbite of music)

HORSLEY: From Dayton, Palin and McCain traveled by bus through Ohio, starting off in Columbus at an Ohio State memorabilia store. Palin shook hands with startled shoppers there, introducing herself simply as Sarah.

Governor PALIN: Hi, there.

Unidentified Woman: Hi.

Governor PALIN: What's your name?

HORSLEY: Independent voter Joan McCann(ph),who was in the neighborhood, says she's delighted with McCain's choice.

Ms. JOAN MCCANN: I thought it was inspired. I'm anti-abortion, for one thing. I think a woman and a young person, I thought it was just brilliant. I can't wait to see the debates. You know, Biden won't be able to beat up too hard. You know, it's going to be interesting. She holds her own. She's great.

HORSLEY: The vice presidential debate is still a month away, but full-on campaigning continues through the weekend in the battlegrounds of the industrial Midwest. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Pittsburgh.

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