Election 2008

Political Junkie: Spotlight On Sarah Palin

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Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin makes her big debut Wednesday night at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor, talks about the convention so far, and the speeches delivered Tuesday by former presidential hopeful Fred Thompson and Sen. Joe Lieberman.

NEAL CONAN, Host:

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan. We're broadcasting today from the Knight Studio at the Newseum, Washington D.C.'s newest museum devoted to journalism and the news business.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

CONAN: Sarah Palin prepares to debut in St. Paul. George Bush speaks to the convention from D.C. Dick Cheney appears in Azerbaijan. That's another really big dose for the political junkie.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL JUNKIE INTRODUCTION)

CONAN: NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us every Wednesday to talk about the presidential campaign in detail, and politics in general. Since last Wednesday, Barack Obama spoke to 80,000 plus in Denver. John McCain stole the media spotlight the next day, and Sarah Palin has been in it ever since. Hurricane Gustav bumped politics back a day in St. Paul. But last night we heard from soon-to-be former President Bush, former presidential hopeful Fred Thompson, and former Democrat Joe Lieberman. Later in the hour, our series of conversations on This American Moment. John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, will join us. We'll focus on foreign policy. What does this election mean to you? What's at stake? Email us now, talk@npr.org. And now, Ken Rudin joins us from St. Paul. As usual, Ken, we begin with a trivia question.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal. Well, Rudy Giuliani is the keynote speaker. He was the former mayor of New York City. When was the last time either convention had a mayor giving the keynote address?

CONAN: So, if you think you know the last mayor to deliver the keynote address to a Democratic or Republican Convention, our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. I can see people all looking puzzled here in the audience. But if anybody thinks they know the answer, we'll accept answers here from the people in the Newseum as well. And Ken, first things first in St. Paul, the week got off to a rocky start. The politics was pushed back a day, but I thought the Republicans handled it awfully well as they transformed their event into a fundraiser for victims of Hurricane Gustav.

RUDIN: Well, in the sense you can make the - by the way, I'm hearing an echo of myself. But...

CONAN: What a terrible thing.

RUDIN: That's right. It's bad enough that you have to hear me, right?

CONAN: Exactly.

RUDIN: I think the week - I think it turned out good in the sense that the Republicans got a second chance for Gustav. Obviously, what happened three years ago with Katrina, perhaps it was the beginning of the end for the Republican Party. They felt that President Bush's response to Katrina was just, you know, insufficient, and I think it hurt the Republicans. And that was the beginning of the end I think for 2006 and the Republican control in Congress. So, I think they handled it very well. But in the second sense, the fact that President Bush was not here in St. Paul, I think that was good for the McCain campaign. As popular as President Bush is here in St. Paul with the delegates and he remains very popular, nationally, of course, he is not popular and the last thing that the McCain people wanted was the Democrats pushing the photograph of Bush and McCain with their arms raised together in St. Paul.

CONAN: Nevertheless, the president did address the convention yesterday via video link from Washington D.C., and spoke about, well, the differences he sometimes has with John McCain.

(SOUNDBITE PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH)

BUSH: John is an independent man who thinks for himself. He's not afraid to tell you when he disagrees. Believe me, I know.

CONAN: And that's one of the many laugh lines, and a lot of big applause lines the president got.

RUDIN: Yes. And one of the reasons President Bush wanted to give that message, of course, is because the Democratic message is that John McCain would be the third Bush term. Of course, the Republicans here in St. Paul and President Bush in the video address last night tried to make the point that John McCain is the same independent, the same straight talker that he was in 2000 when he stood up to the Bush organization and ran against him in the 2000 primaries.

CONAN: And then there were some former, well, I guess opponents, you have to say. Primarily, Fred Thompson who was, of course, a former senator but most recently the former prosecutor on "Law and Order." I guess, most people know him as that. But most recently, a presidential candidate himself where he took Arnold Schwarzenegger's spot, I guess, the actor's spot in the line up.

(SOUNDBITE FORMER SENATOR FRED THOMPSON)

FRED THOMPSON: She has run a municipality and she has run a state. And I think I can say without fear of contradiction, she's the only nominee in the history of either party who knows how to properly field dress a moose.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

CONAN: And Fred Thompson, of course, referring to Sarah Palin, the embattled vice presidential pick who just - a surprise nomination by John McCain last Friday. And since then, well, her family, her past, her politics have been all over the front pages of every newspaper and magazine in the country.

RUDIN: Especially her family, and the Republicans are very angry about that. There was also a line by Fred Thompson last night that blasted the media for their obsession with Sarah Palin's past. It was an unfortunate thing that was spread by the liberal blog Daily Kos last few days ago that was picked up by mainstream press, that the four-month old-Trig, Sarah Palin's baby with Down syndrome is actually not Sarah Palin's baby but it's her daughter's baby. And a lot of left-wing blogs were demanding that the mainstream media report on this story. That was incorrect, it was unfortunate, and it was actually the beginning of what seemed to be a week of just prying questions about Sarah Palin's family. The Republicans will point out and Barack Obama will acknowledge that Obama's own mother was 17 and unmarried when she got pregnant. So, Barack Obama says look, family things like this are off limits and should be off limits. But there are a lot of questions that the press seems to be focusing on, especially with the Palin family here.

CONAN: Well, there're other questions beside her family. Her...

RUDIN: Absolutely.

CONAN: And they're legitimate questions.

RUDIN: There's no question about that. And of course, the Republicans are trying to say that the press is going overboard on just family, when of course her record as mayor of Wasilla, the 9,000-population or 7,000-population city in Alaska where she was a mayor before she was elected governor in 2006, what she did regarding the fire - as governor, the firing of the state public safety commissioner over because they wouldn't get rid of a state trooper who was married to Sarah Palin's sister.

CONAN: Got to throw in allegedly in there somewhere, Ken.

RUDIN: Allegedly, that's exactly right. Exactly right. There's also allegations that she tried to ban books when she was mayor of Wasilla. There's a bunch of things. Look, the problem with this is that if it were - if the Republican nominee for vice president were Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, or Mitt Romney or Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge, any of those people who were allegedly - that word again - on the short list, we would know more about them. But Sarah Palin for the most part is a brand new face, a person that very few people knew about. Of course, there were allegations that the McCain campaign didn't completely vet her, and of course the McCain people are very angry at that accusation. They said all the pertinent questions were asked, that they knew about Sarah Palin's daughter being pregnant, things like that. But again, there were so many questions with this new person that it just seemed to be a bombardment of one revelation after another, and that's why I suspect that tonight's speech is so important.

CONAN: Well, we'll get more on that in a minute. But we have some people who think they know the answer to our trivia question. Again, it is the...

RUDIN: I forgot what that question was. It was a long time ago. What was it?

CONAN: The last mayor to address a Democratic or Republican National Convention as the keynote speaker. So, let's go to Tommy. And Tommy is with us from Hinterlands? Is that right?

TOMMY: Oh, no. I'm in the hinterlands of North Carolina.

CONAN: I didn't think there was a place called Hinterlands, North Carolina. But go ahead.

TOMMY: This is later in the years, this is going back a ways, but what about John Lindsay, the former mayor of New York City?

RUDIN: John Lindsay is not the correct answer, but it's interesting. In 1968, John Lindsay nominated Spiro Agnew for vice president, and the thought of John Lindsay who later became a liberal Republican - a liberal Democrat - at the time he was a liberal Republican, but he nominated Spiro Agnew, but John Lindsay was a never keynote speaker at a convention.

TOMMY: Thank you so much.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Tommy. Appreciate it. Let's see if we can try, this is Steve. Steve is with us from Grand Haven. I'm sure that's a city in Michigan.

STEVE: That is correct. Neal, we're right on the coast of Lake Michigan. I would also like to go with a former New York mayor, Mayor Ed Koch.

RUDIN: Ed Koch spoke at the 1984 convention in San Francisco, but he was not the keynote speaker.

STEVE: OK.

CONAN: Steve, thanks very much for the call. Let's see if we can go now to - this is another Steve. This one is from Newton in Iowa.

STEVE: Hello.

CONAN: Hi.

STEVE: I think it's another mayor from New York, Mario Cuomo.

CONAN: I could answer that one. He never got elected mayor.

RUDIN: Exactly right. As a matter of fact, Mario Cuomo ran for mayor against Ed Koch as you will remember, Neal, in the 1977 primary but was defeated. So, Cuomo was lieutenant governor, then governor, but never mayor of New York City.

CONAN: Long time ago. I'm sad to say I covered that race. Thanks very much for the call, Steve.

RUDIN: You covered that, Neal?

CONAN: Yeah.

RUDIN: I think you covered LaGuardia before he was an airport.

CONAN: Let's go to David, David with us from Duluth in Minnesota.

DAVID: Yes. I wanted to guess Rudy Giuliani from the '04 Republican Convention.

RUDIN: Well, he spoke, but he was not the keynote speaker. The keynote speaker then was Zell Miller, the then Democratic senator from Georgia. Rudy Giuliani did speak in '04 but not the keynoter.

CONAN: I think we're going to have to go back to Robert Wagner. We've covered about all the mayors of New York in my recollection.

RUDIN: My favorite actor.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, David. Let's see, Frank has another try. Frank is with us from St. Paul there where the convention is in Minnesota.

FRANK: I believe it would be Hubert Humphrey in 1948, one of the great speeches in American history.

CONAN: Former mayor of Minneapolis.

RUDIN: A great speech in 1948, a great speech on civil rights, he was not the keynote speaker. He was running for the Senate, he was the mayor of Minneapolis, but not the keynote speaker.

CONAN: Nice try, Frank.

FRANK: OK.

CONAN: Let's see if Pete's got the answer, and Pete's on the line with us from Urbandale in Iowa.

PETE: Yeah, my guess would be Andrew Young, former mayor of Atlanta.

CONAN: Absolutely right, but is that the right answer?

RUDIN: No, because Andrew Young was never the keynote speaker.

PETE: I've got another comment.

CONAN: Hang on the line, we may get to those.

PETE: Yeah. This is in regards to the vice president nominee for the Republicans.

CONAN: And just hang on the line there. We may get back to you on that, but we want to get an answer to this trivia question. First, is anybody here at the Newseum think they know the answer?

RUDIN: I know it. I know it. I know it.

CONAN: Ken Rudin thinks he knows it. Ken, go ahead.

RUDIN: Well, the answer is Dick Lugar, who was a five-time senator from Indiana, but in 1972 he was the keynoter of the convention when he was the mayor of Indianapolis.

CONAN: Wasn't he described as Richard Nixon's favorite mayor?

RUDIN: He was. Exactly that, and that's why, of course, he had the unfortunate decision to run for the Senate in 1974 in the middle of Watergate, and being called Richard Nixon's favorite mayor was not a good thing to be called in '74, and he was defeated.

CONAN: He hasn't had too many tough races since then, however, and of course he's now the senior senator from the state of Indiana. Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor and our political junkie is in St. Paul, Minnesota, this week covering the Republican Convention from there. In a moment, your calls. Republicans, do you think the party is starting to make its case after that one-day hiatus for Gustav? 800-989-8255. And Democrats, if you heard Joe Lieberman last night, were you swayed? You can also send us email, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan broadcasting today from the night studio inside the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Ken Rudin made the trip to St. Paul this week. He's following all the news coming out of the Republican Convention. Tonight, we expect to hear from Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, John McCain's pick to be his running mate. It's billed as the biggest speech of Palin's political life, and her first chance to introduce herself to voters. Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of the City of New York, will give tonight's keynote address. Tomorrow, John McCain is scheduled to accept his party's nomination in prime time. Republicans, if you've been watching this week, do you think your party made its case? And Democrats, did Senator Joe Lieberman convince you or changed your mind? And Senator Lieberman, a former Democrat, well, he describes himself as an independent Democrat in caucuses with the Democrats in the United States Senate, spoke last night to the Republican Convention.

(SOUNDBITE SENATOR JOSEPH LIEBERMAN)

JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: What, after all, is a Democrat like me doing at a Republican Convention like this? Well, I'll tell you what. I'm here to support John McCain because country matters more than party.

CONAN: A fine reception for the former Democrat Joe Lieberman. 800-989-8255 is our phone number. The email address is talk@npr.org. You can read what other listeners have to say on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. And earlier, Ken, you mentioned Zell Miller who addressed the Republican Convention, another Democrat. I can't say that Lieberman's was quite the same slashing address that Miller gave.

RUDIN: Oh no, not at all. Of course, the mood of this convention is far different. In 2004, Republicans were confident. They were in control. That was three years after 9/11, and they were still riding that, not to put a political view of 9/11 because that is such tragedy. But politically 9/11 did help the Republican Party. It energized President Bush. Obviously, four years, a lot has happened in the past four years. The Republicans are out of the majority in Congress. President Bush's numbers are right at rock bottom, and really they expect more Republican losses in the House and the Senate. It's a completely different atmosphere. It's also interesting, Zell Miller always told it like it is, and he was also not running for another term. Joe Lieberman still is a chairman of the Democratic controlled Senate, of the Homeland Security Committee. And Joe Lieberman again, of course, eight years ago being the Democratic vice presidential nominee, it's assumed that if the Democrats pick up more seats in the Senate in the fall, Joe Lieberman would not only be out as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, but he also may be out from the Democratic caucuses. It'll be very interesting to watch.

CONAN: Now, let's see if we could get a caller on the line. This is Nancy. Nancy with us from Portland, Oregon.

NANCY: Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

NANCY: I didn't catch all of Joe Lieberman. I just happened to turn on the radio last night as I was driving, and the part that I heard, my jaw actually hit the floor. I couldn't believe it. First, he was talking about what a great friend McCain was to him. Then he was talking about Obama and how noble and the good work he's going. However, he hasn't taken on the partisans in his own party, and he wanted to compare Obama with Bill Clinton who did step across the party lines to get welfare reform passed, to get the trade agreements passed, and the surreal moment came when the audience hooted and hollered at the Republican National Convention. I thought I had stepped on to another planet.

CONAN: Ken, it's a strange moment indeed.

NANCY: Strange strange moment.

RUDIN: Surreal is the best word. It was exactly the same reaction I had. Given the fact that everybody in that hall were members the vast right-wing conspiracy, and here they are cheering Bill Clinton's name and Bill Clinton's accomplishments.

NANCY: They spent so much money to get Bill Clinton, and they're turning around hooting and hollering him. I'm not fooled.

RUDIN: As long as somebody can be compared favorably to another Democrat favorably to Barack Obama, that was the whole point of it. The whole point of Joe Lieberman invoking Bill Clinton's name was that Barack is not somebody who reached across party lines, and of course we always talked about what Bill Clinton did to get Republicans on board for welfare reform and things like that.

NANCY: Joe Lieberman speaking at the Republican Convention is a whole different ballgame. Really, he's only doing it for the support of the war, and his support of the war is simply for the contracts, the military contracts that his state gets. Bottom line, let's talk about of bottom line. That's the only reason he is supporting this war. It'd be more cynical than that, but let's stick with it.

CONAN: OK. There may be other reasons as well. He seems perfectly sincere.

NANCY: Maybe. But that seems to be - I can't understand it.

RUDIN: I suspect there are other reasons, too. Yes.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Nancy. I forgot, we had Pete on hold, and Pete's still with us in Urbandale, Iowa. I'm sorry, Pete.

RUDIN: The answer is Dick Lugar.

CONAN: Let's see if I can get him back on. There, I think I pressed the right button this time.

PETE: Yeah. I'm here.

CONAN: Go ahead, please. You had a comment?

PETE: Yes. This whole decision by McCain, I think we're all getting sidetracked by this VP nomination. This was John McCain's decision to have her run with him, and I think it's to win the election. And we're all supposed to be putting our country first now, and I don't see this woman taking over if something happened to John McCain. And if you compare Barack Obama's choice of Joe Biden versus Sarah Palin, hands down I think Obama made the best decision for a vice president running mate. Now, I'd like people to get back to the basic thoughts of John McCain and the Republicans. I think they're running scared, and they chose this right to life right-wing governor to get votes, but I think they're going to actually splinter the party more because there are so many more Republicans that are moving away from these conservative values.

CONAN: Pete, I think there's been awful lot of strong response to Sarah Palin. There in St. Paul, at least if you listen to the delegates, Ken Rudin, they're accepting her quite well.

RUDIN: They're more than accepting it. They're ecstatic about it. There was a big fear among the Republicans, especially the delegates here in St. Paul, that if John McCain would pick a pro-choice running mate like Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania, there would have been a complete revolt. This is a pro-life party, and for all the talk about John McCain trying to woo independents, woo centrist Democrats, McCain himself has a solid pro-life voting record. That was never going to be in the cards. But Pete's bigger point is absolutely correct. Yes, it was a political move when Walter Mondale picked Geraldine Ferraro. I don't think anybody felt that Ferraro was the best qualified to take over should something happened to President Mondale. That's a quote you don't hear too often, President Mondale. But again, it was political. It was aimed at a certain constituency. It failed miserably, and ultimately we always say that vice president candidates do not matter, that it's really about the presidential race. John Edwards didn't really matter, and when you think of Dan Quayle, all the ridicule that he went through in 1988, and yet Bush-Quayle won 40 out of 50 states. But having said that, Pete's big point is correct. It says something about McCain's judgment. It says something about what McCain is looking for. The name of the game right here is winning the election. Republican numbers don't look that good in important states like Florida, Ohio, too close for so many Republicans, and that's why he went with Sarah Palin.

CONAN: Let's get Barbara on the line. Barbara with us from Tallahassee in Florida.

BARBARA: Yes. Hello.

CONAN: Hi. You're on the air, Barbara. Go ahead, please.

BARBARA: Thank you. Yes. As a professional working woman and someone who's been a Democrat, it wasn't Joe Lieberman that changed my mind last night. I'll tell you, what I'm outraged about is the fact that working women have been attacked universally by the attacks that the press and the talking heads have been making against Sarah Palin. Being a mother of five children and not being able to do the job right? For those of us that have been out there, and single fathers who have been out there raising families and working, I think that they have missed their mark. And quite honestly now I am more inclined than ever to go with the Republican ticket. I'm a Floridian, and I will tell you, I just heard what the comment was about Florida. We are a swing state, and we are just going to not be given that kind of attack about working women.

CONAN: And who're you hearing those attacks from?

BARBARA: I've heard them from the talking heads that have been out there in the press. Quite honestly, I heard one from Sally Quinn the other night, from the Washington Post. She was in an interview, and I'm sorry but I think it was CNN, I can't recall. In her comment back to the interviewer, she basically stated that Sarah Palin had five kids and had her hands full and shouldn't be expected to do a job when she's going to be distracted, so to speak, and that's paraphrasing, by her children.

CONAN: Have you heard anything like that from Senator Obama or any of his surrogates?

BARBARA: I haven't heard that, but, you know, honestly I haven't heard them saying otherwise.

CONAN: Senator Obama said her family was off-limits.

BARBARA: Yes, he did. But where is the, where is the follow-up? In other words, here's my point, the follow-up hasn't been there. Yes, he's been very clear. Yes, we all know that his mother was 17 and unmarried also, and that should be off-limits. Everybody agreed. But these other side attacks, these other attacks on raising a family. I haven't heard that, honestly, from anyone in the Democratic Party.

CONAN: OK, Ken.

RUDIN: Neal, no, I agree completely with what Barbara is saying because I have heard it too. I have not heard it from Obama or Biden or the Obama campaign, but I have not - it's rare that I turn on the TV at least in the initial days after Palin's name was announced, and I heard so many people saying, I mean, this is a kind of question you'll never ask of a male running mate, or a male nominee for high office. Well, you know she has five kids, she has a 4-month-old baby, the baby had Down's syndrome. What business does she have running for national office? And obviously you don't - you'd never ask that why isn't the man staying home with four kids, it's always the woman shouldn't be running. I have not heard it from Obama, but Barbara is exactly right. Every time I turn on the TV, at least in the initial three or four days after Palin's name was announced, I heard that from commentators in the media.

CONAN: Barbara, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.

BARBARA: Thanks, bye.

CONAN: And I think she's also right that Florida is going to be a key state in this election, along with Ohio. We seem to be right back where we started, Ken.

RUDIN: But yes, but those are the states that the Republicans won. No Republican in history has ever won without winning Ohio, but at the same token, Pennsylvania is very close, Michigan is very close, two states that the Democrats have to rely on. So, there are a lot of things at stake here, there are a lot of things that will decide the November election, but nobody at this point could say with any certainty who's going to win in November.

CONAN: And what do you think Sarah Palin has to accomplish in her address tonight?

RUDIN: Well, I hope she doesn't sound defensive, or at least if I were a Republican I wouldn't hope she sounds defensive. I think she's obviously going to sell John McCain and herself as these reformers, those people willing to stand up to the party establishment. And for all the mixed record you've heard about Palin as mayor of Wasilla, and as governor of Alaska, she clearly has stood up to the big boys. Obviously, there is a lot of corruption going on in Alaska, and Ted Stevens is under indictment, Congressman Don Young is under an FBI investigation. Sarah Palin has often stood up to them. She attacks the oil companies there to give tremendous revenue to her home state. Of course that goes off - perhaps different from the Republican argument about low taxes. But she still remains very popular in Alaska, and I think I suspect she'll talk about her record, and less being on the defensive.

CONAN: We're talking with political junkie Ken Rudin, as we do every Wednesday here at the Newseum. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And let me ask you about some of the other things that are going on in St. Paul. There's another meeting just across the river in Minneapolis where a former Republican presidential candidate is gathering quite a crowd.

RUDIN: Right. They had, well, actually, they had the rally yesterday. It was a rally for the Republic by Ron Paul, the defeated - the congressman from Texas who had sought the Republican nomination. He was an iconoclastic Republican. He was a libertarian nominee in 1988 for president. He is anti-Iraq war, he's against the drug war, he's against government regulation, he is in favor of civil liberties. He complains the Bush administration has abandoned that fight. So, while there were some aspects of Ron Paul that may be way out there, he still drew a big following. It was 17 dollars and 76 cents per ticket, and they sold about 10,000 tickets. Jesse Ventura spoke there. Jesse Ventura also hinted about running for office again in 2012. Gary Johnson, the former Governor of New Mexico, Barry Goldwater, Jr. who was our guest on Talk of the Nation a few weeks ago. So, there were some prominent members of both parties and independents who were there. It didn't get big notice here. I did run into Ron Paul in the street the other day, he had four people walking around with him. He says he had a great time on Talk of the Nation. But, you know, there were still a lot of Republicans on the floor last night in St. Paul who were wearing Ron Paul buttons just as there were a lot of Democrats who were wearing Hillary buttons to the very end. So, not everybody is won over by John McCain. I suspect Sarah Palin helps with the conservatives, but Ron Paul people are a different kind of Republican, more iconoclastic, more libertarian view than they would like John McCain - than John McCain might be.

CONAN: And also, Ken, there have been a lot of demonstrations that we've heard reports about in St. Paul. As you walked around the city, have they disrupted anything? What's been going on?

RUDIN: I've seen a lot of them. I know that about 300 people have been arrested. I know that, you know, the marches have had anywhere between eight and 10,000 people. What I've seen is very peaceful. There were police in riot gear throughout the city. The moment I got here Friday night they were out in force. I've heard reports about smashing of windows, and throwing bottles, and things like that. There have been so-called anarchists who have infiltrated some of these groups. But what I've seen mostly are peaceful protests marching though the streets, anti-war slogans, things like that. Anti-Bush, antipasti if you're Italian, anti-war stuff. Did anybody left the Newseum at that last one? Probably not.

CONAN: They thought it was just the beginning.

RUDIN: Exactly right. But what I've seen was very peaceful, but again it was sizable, and a tremendous police presence in the city as well.

CONAN: Let me ask, you have now been to two political conventions. What's your favorite buttons?

RUDIN: Well, you know something, I did see something last night that I never thought I've ever seen in a Republican Convention and I've been to every one since 1980. It said I Support Unwed Mothers, which I thought was no - no, I'm not making that up! I mean, that's not something the kind of thing you'd see in a Republican Convention. One of my favorites at the Democratic convention was Ask Me How Many Houses I Own, obviously, a reference to John McCain. But there was a great one yesterday, you know, usually they try to look forward and go beyond George W. Bush. There was a nice one that said Thank You, W, and it was a picture of Samuel Alito and John Roberts, the two Supreme Court justices that President Bush named.

CONAN: So, the I Support Unwed Mothers - was Dan Quayle wearing that one?

RUDIN: "Murphy Brown," that's right, "Murphy Brown" was not here at the convention. But, no, it's just interesting how things change and how the rhetoric changes given the situations when they change.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, thanks very much. He'll be back with us here at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. when he returns from St. Paul next week. Appreciate your time as always, Ken.

RUDIN: Thanks a lot, Neal.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

CONAN: Ken Rudin is NPR's Talk of the Nation's political junkie and NPR's political editor. You can read his column the Political Junkie at NPR.org.

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Sarah Palin Set To Take The National Stage

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin waits to speak at an event in O'Fallon, Mo. i

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin waits to be introduced to speak during an event on Sunday in O'Fallon, Mo. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin waits to speak at an event in O'Fallon, Mo.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin waits to be introduced to speak during an event on Sunday in O'Fallon, Mo.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

For the past few days, John McCain has been introducing his vice-presidential pick, Gov. Sarah Palin, to the nation. Wednesday night at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., Palin will speak for herself.

What Palin chooses to emphasize, the questions she opts to answer, and the issues she decides to sidestep will reveal a lot about her. To most Americans, she is unknown.

"I don't know much about her," says Texas alternate delegate Vincent Campos, 22, of Mineral Wells. "I'm hoping she'll explain herself."

Bill Lee, 89, of Sun City, Ariz., who says he is the oldest delegate at the convention, expects Palin to talk about the economy, national security, health care and how she's going to change the way Washington works.

"She's going to tell us how she's going to work with McCain," he says.

How she addresses recent controversy will be watched as well.

Democrats, and even some Republicans, are questioning whether Palin has been properly character-scanned by the McCain campaign.

"When I was vetted in 2004," Gov. Tom Vilsack (D-IA) told NPR's Mara Liasson, "there were multiple interviews with individuals, lawyers and with John Kerry. Very little of that happened this time. So, that suggests it was a gut decision on the part of John McCain. That concerns me, because we've had eight years of gut decisions."

The Washington Post reports that the McCain vetting team did not conduct a long, in-depth background check and that she was only interviewed the day before McCain offered her the invitation. But McCain and his team have said that she went through an extensive interrogation process.

Supporters hail Palin as a reformer and a champion of ethical governance. Critics point out that she has little experience in national security matters and international affairs. Information gatherers have been scurrying to learn — and sort out — everything possible about her public and personal life. In the rush, there has been a blizzard of stories — some true, some false. Day-by-day, new dispatches arrive from America's northernmost hinterlands.

Palin served on the city council of Wasilla, a town of fewer than 10,000 people, for two terms, served as mayor of the town for two terms, and has held the governorship since December 2006. She is the first woman to be nominated to the number two spot by Republicans. She's a working mother, a member of the National Rifle Association and a former member of the Wasilla Assembly of God. She and her husband, Todd, announced during the convention that their 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant.

In the machinations of Alaska public service, Palin has been promoted as a major gear shifter. The New York Times reports that as mayor of Wasilla, Palin spoke to the city librarian about banning certain books, but nothing came of it. She has also made waves by canning people from their jobs. Her possible involvement in the removal of the state's public safety commissioner led to an ethics investigation. Palin has hired a lawyer to represent her.

There are also questions about Palin's attitude toward pork-barrel politics.

But little of the news of questions surrounding her public and private life has impacted the support she has been receiving from the conservative right, from female voters or from the McCain base.

Early Wednesday morning, Palin appeared in the convention hall for a walk-through before the evening's address. Most of the seats were empty, and the hall was relatively quiet. On Wednesday night, when she takes the podium — and in the days to come — there should be a very different feel.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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