ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Wait, now, say the Republicans. You think that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin lacks experience? You think that at 44, with less than two years running the nation’s northernmost state, she doesn’t have what it takes yet to be a heartbeat away from the presidency?
What about the fact that she stood up to embattled Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens? What about her oversight of her state’s National Guard contingent? Her experience as a mother? And, hey — what about the fact that she runs a state that happens to be very close to Russia?
Each of these characteristics has been cited by a Republican since Friday as an ingredient in John McCain’s conclusion that Palin is qualified to become vice president of the United States.
“She has experience not only in politics but in life,” former Republican Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee said Sunday on CNN.
None of this suggests that Sarah Palin is not a skilled, competent, multitalented public servant. But it means that, in the face of fierce Democratic assertions that she is too green to be elevated to vice president, the GOP is looking for whatever it can to show that’s not the case and to bolster her credentials, particularly in national security.
And in some cases, the responses from Republicans who showed up on the Sunday morning talk-show circuit to promote Palin’s qualifications are unexpected, to say the least.
Thompson: “She’s a mother of five children. … And she has more experience than Barack Obama.”
Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina: “Governor Palin took on Ted Stevens. If she can take him on, she can take on the Russians.” Stevens, a Republican senator, is facing corruption charges and running for re-election.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty: “Palin is commander-in-chief of the Alaskan National Guard.” The state’s Guard has about 4,000 members.
From McCain’s wife, Cindy, came a geographic assessment of qualification: “Alaska is the closest part of our continent to Russia. So, it’s not as if she doesn’t understand what’s at stake here.”
What these traits say about Palin’s ability to serve as vice president or, in an emergency, as president is not entirely clear. But the flurry of comments by leading Republicans hint at a flood-the-zone strategy when it comes to Palin, whose gender, Christian faith and conservative chops infused a lively crackle into John McCain’s campaign during the weekend between the two national conventions.
The GOP has also implied that Democratic reactions to Palin’s selection are sexist, particularly since, they contend, her time as Alaska’s governor gives her the edge over Barack Obama in executive experience. Obama, 47, has spent almost 12 years in office, all of it as a lawmaker — eight years as an Illinois state senator and nearly four as a U.S. senator. Palin’s total is 12 — she spent 10 as a city council member and mayor, and nearly two as governor.
“If they want to go down that route, in all candor, she has far more experience than Senator Obama does,” McCain said Sunday in St. Louis.
Democrats insist sexism isn’t at play. “It’s not the woman issue at all,” former Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota said Sunday on CNN. “There are a lot of other Republican women who could have filled this role if that is what he was looking for” — such as Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison or Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” saw a kindred spirit in Palin’s experience as mayor, despite the fact that her town, Wasilla, has about 7,000 people and his had nearly 8 million when 9/11 happened.
“Maybe it’s my own background as a mayor and United States attorney, but this whole idea of executive experience to me would really qualify her,” Giuliani said. He dismissed questions about the size of the town she ran. “You know why? She had to make decisions. All Sen. Obama has had to do is talk. That’s all he does.”
Some of the comments seemed a bit non-sequitur. Russia, for example.
Maj. Gen. Craig Campbell, adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard, considers Palin “extremely responsive and smart” and says she is in charge when it comes to in-state services, such as emergencies and natural disasters where the National Guard is the first responder.
But, in an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday, he said he and Palin play no role in national defense activities, even when they involve the Alaska National Guard. The entire operation is under federal control, and the governor is not briefed on situations.
Stephen C. Donehoo, managing director of Kissinger McLarty Associates in Washington, and former military intelligence officer specializing in Latin America:
“No doubt the campaign staff have her hooked up to a fire hose on foreign policy issues,” said Stephen C. Donehoo, managing director of Kissinger McLarty Associates in Washington and a former military intelligence officer.
“No doubt they fear a debate with Joe Biden that touches foreign affairs,” Donehoo said. “My guess is Graham and (Joe) Lieberman are doing a lot of tutoring.”
Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota appears to have no such worries, given what he considers to be Obama’s lack of experience.
“The president sets the tone,” Coleman said. “The experience issue is on the other side. The No. 1 guy there is the guy without the experience.”
Contributing to this report were AP writers Tom Raum, Jim Kuhnhenn, Glen Johnson and Nestor Ikeda in St. Paul and Anne Sutton in Juneau, Alaska.
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