Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, right, will seek to define herself tonight as the vice presidential nominee of the Republican Party.
The party’s convention here in St. Paul has become defined by Sen. John McCain’s surprise choice for a running mate, with her relative inexperience, the revelation of her daughter’s pregnancy, and her views on sex education and teaching creationism all providing fodder.
Delegates at the Xcel Energy Center appeared firmly supportive of the Alaska governor.
Jerry Bowen, a Republican delegate and real estate agent from Franklin, Tenn., said he thinks the pregnancy of Palin’s 17-year-old daughter makes the Alaska governor an excellent spokeswoman for abstinence-only sex education, a policy that Bowen supports.
“I think Gov. Palin is the poster child for that message,” he said. “We can not condemn her daughter for being human and making a mistake.”
When McCain selected Palin, Michelle Steel, a delegate from Los Angeles, said she was “shocked, because I didn’t know who she was.”
But now she is excited by the Alaskan—particularly by the prospect of having a woman on the ticket.
Ms. Steel, who serves on the state Board of Equalization in California, said she isn’t troubled by Palin’s daughter’s pregnancy.
“You don’t know what [teenagers] are going to do,” said Steel, who has two young adult children. “You can’t follow them everywhere. … I think it’s time to drop it and move on.”
That hasn’t happened, as the media has used the pregnancy news as the launching pad for stories on Palin’s support for abstinence education (and just how her daughter’s pregnancy is or isn’t relevant), whether Palin could juggle the vice president’s job with her family situation, and whether the governor was thoroughly vetted by the McCain campaign.
In an interview on Monday before Palin announced her daughter’s pregnancy, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings was slightly off-message from the McCain campaign’s effort to portray Palin as experienced.
“I don’t really know her personally, and I look forward to getting to know her better,” Spellings said. “She’s only been there in office for a year and a half or so.”
The secretary said she was familiar with Alaska’s record on education, including during Palin’s tenure.
“They have done some really interesting things up there,” Spellings said. “They have one of the best data systems in the country. They’re one of our growth-model pilot states, one of 10. They applied for differentiated accountability, and they’ve got one of our [Teacher Incentive Fund] grants.”
“They’ve got a long way to go, no doubt about it,” the secretary added. “Their standards are fairly low, and their achievement lags the national average. Beyond that, I look forward to meeting her.”
--Mark Walsh & Alyson Klein