ST. PAUL, Minn. — Republicans assailed Barack Obama as the most liberal, least experienced White House nominee in history Tuesday night as President Bush led a convention chorus of praise for GOP candidate John McCain. Delegates rallied behind vice presidential running mate Sarah Palin in the face of fresh controversy.
“God only made one John McCain, and he is his own man,” declared Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee, awarded a prime-time turn at the Republicans’ convention podium.
The convention hall resounded with boos when Lieberman said the Democratic presidential candidate voted to cut off funding “for our troops on the ground” in Iraq last year.
And again when former Sen. Fred Thompson scoffed at the 47-year-old Illinois senator, who is seeking to become the first black president.
“Democrats present a history-making nominee for president. History making in that he is the most liberal, most inexperienced nominee ever to run for president,” Thompson said as delegates roared their agreement.
Thompson and Lieberman both cast Palin as a political maverick in the McCain mold.
The Republican nominee-in-waiting campaigned in Pennsylvania and Ohio during the day, slowly making his way toward the convention city where the 72-year-old Arizona senator will deliver his formal acceptance speech on Thursday night.
Hundreds of miles to the west, in St. Paul, about two dozen men who were Vietnam prisoners with him a generation ago sparked chants of “USA, USA” when they were introduced to the delegates.
Bush, an unpopular president relegated to a minor role at the convention, reprised the national security themes that propelled him to a second term as he spoke — briefly, by satellite from the White House. “We need a president who understands the lessons of Sept. 11, 2001,” he said. “That to protect America, we must stay on offense, stop attacks before they happen and not wait to be hit again. The man we need is John McCain.”
Thompson delivered a strong defense of Palin. He said the Alaska governor was “from a small town, with small town values, but that’s not good enough for those folks who are attacking her and her family.”
He said McCain’s decision to place her on the ticket “has the other side and their friends in the media in a state of panic.”
Other Republicans — delegates and luminaries alike — also defended Palin, who disclosed on Monday that her 17-year-old unmarried daughter is pregnant. In addition, a lawyer has been hired to represent the governor in an ethics-related controversy back home in Alaska.
Conservatives, slow to warm to McCain even after he clinched the nomination last spring, were particularly supportive.
“I haven’t seen anything that comes out about her that in any way troubles me or shakes my confidence in her,” said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who ran unsuccessfully for the party’s presidential nomination this year.
“All it has done for me is say she is a human person with a real family.”
And Ron Nehring, chairman of the California state party, said video footage of Palin on a firing range was helping her cause.
“The reports I’m getting back is that every time they show that footage we get 1,000 precinct walkers from the NRA,” he told members of his state’s delegation to laughter. “She cuts taxes and shoots moose. That’s Gov. Palin,” Nehring said.
Thompson jabbed at Obama on abortion, as well.
“We need a president who doesn’t think that the protection of the unborn or a newly born baby is above his pay grade,” he said in prepared remarks, referring to a recent episode in which McCain’s White House rival said it was “above my pay grade” to decide the point at which an unborn child is entitled to rights.
There were indications that Republicans thought they could turn Palin-related controversy to McCain’s gain. Officials said Levi Johnston, the 18-year-old father of the baby Bristol Palin is expecting, was en route to the convention from his home in Wasilla, Alaska.
McCain’s wife, Cindy, took in the evening program from a VIP box. So, too, former President George H.W. Bush, accompanied by his wife Barbara.
Bush scrapped a planned Monday night speech because of the threat Hurricane Gustav posed to New Orleans. With polls making it clear the nation is ready for a change, the McCain campaign indicated there was no reason for him to make the trip to St. Paul.
The president referred to the years of torture McCain endured as a prisoner of war. Then Bush added, “If the Hanoi Hilton could not break John McCain’s resolve to do what is best for his country, you can be sure the angry left never will.”
“As president he will stand up to the high tax crowd in Congress … and lift the ban for drilling on America’s offshore oil,” Bush added.
As for Palin, despite Thompson’s remarks — and McCain’s declaration that he was satisfied with the scrutiny his aides had given the governor before her selection— there were fresh disclosures.
Among them: that both as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and as governor, she had sought earmarks for local projects. Her most recent round of requests totaled $300 for every Alaskan. McCain has frequently vowed to veto any earmark legislation and has said she will be a force in his battle to wipe them out.
Additionally, the lawyer hired to defend Palin in an ethics investigation said he also is representing her personally and is permitted to bill the state up to $95,000 for work in the current case. The issue involves the dismissal of public safety commissioner Walt Monegan after he refused to fire a state trooper who had divorced the governor’s sister.
Republicans handed Lieberman the prime spot in the evening lineup, and he blended praise for McCain with criticism of Obama.
“When others wanted to retreat in defeat from the field of battle, when Barack Obama was voting to cut off funding for our troops on the ground, John McCain had the courage to stand against the tide of public opinion,” the Connecticut Democratic-turned-independent senator said in excerpts released in advance of his speech.
The decision to place Lieberman out front on the convention’s second night capped an unprecedented political migration. Only eight years ago, he stood before a cheering throng at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles and accepted the nomination as Al Gore’s running mate.
In the years since, he lost badly in 2004 when he sought the Democratic presidential nomination, lost a Democratic nomination for a new term at home in Connecticut in 2006, then recovered quickly to win re-election as an independent.
Back in the Senate, his vote allows the Democrats to command a narrow majority, yet he has been one of the most outspoken supporters of the war in Iraq. He has traveled widely with McCain in recent months and occasionally has angered Democrats with remarks critical of Obama.