ST. PAUL, Minn. — In her first major address to the nation, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for vice president and wasted little time going on the offensive against Democrats and their presidential candidate Barack Obama.

AP Photo

The 44-year-old Alaska governor has dominated the Republican National Convention’s headlines this week, as uncertainties swirled about her political record and the pregnancy of her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol. Many in the GOP hoped for a confident appearance by Palin that would lay to rest any concerns about her ability to serve as John McCain’s running mate.

Palin used her speech to answer critics, but not before attacking Obama, for whom she reserved her sharpest rhetoric.

Having previously served as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, (population: about 10,000), she played off her small-town image when criticizing the Illinois senator and his campaign trail speeches.

“I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities,” she said. “I might add that in small towns, we don’t quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren’t listening.”

Before a crowd of limited government-loving GOP stalwarts, Palin cited Obama’s support of plans that increase a slew of taxes, including those on income, investments and business.

She added soon after: “In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers. And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change.”

The newly crowned Republican vice president candidate wasted little time last night in answering her critics among in the media.

“Here’s a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I’m not going to Washington to seek their good opinion — I’m going to Washington to serve the people of this country,” she said. “Americans expect us to go to Washington for the right reasons, and not just to mingle with the right people.”

She emphasized her accomplishments as the governor of Alaska, reminding a packed Xcel Energy Center of how she “took on the old politics as usual in Juneau … when I stood up to the special interests, the lobbyists, big oil companies, and the good ol’ boys network.”

In between uproarious bursts of applause, she told the crowd that she won the governorship of Alaska nearly two years ago “promising major ethics reform” and “to end the culture of self-dealing.

“And today,” she stressed, “that ethics reform is the law.”

Only briefly and indirectly did Palin address what was one of the biggest media narratives of the convention — that her daughter, Bristol, is five months pregnant.

“Our family has the same ups and downs as any other,” she said, “the same challenges and the same joys.”

As the crowds poured out into the concourses here at the Xcel Energy Center, most were pleased with Palin’s speech, with a few expressions of visible relief scattered throughout the sea of red.

Jack Telefus, 60, could barely hold back his excitement regarding Palin’s role as the GOP’s vice presidential candidate, saying that Palin was “just the best thing that’s happened in a long time to the Republican Party, and to the strategy of the Party.”

“Getting someone that’s young and doesn’t have a lot of baggage but a lot of talent — that’s really important,” said Telefus, a resident of Pocatello, Idaho.

Telefus was quick to criticize members of the media that had questioned whether Palin, a mother of five, would have enough time to sufficiently devote to the vice presidency if elected.

“If this had been a woman that had been nominated for a job at General Motors, and she had been denied the job because she had kids, (the media) would have been up in arms,” he said. “Here she is coming forward, a hard-working woman that’s been able to balance responsibilities with a really tough job, and they’re getting on her case about it.”

When asked if she thought Palin answered her critics among the media and the opposing party, San Antonio resident Myra Myers, 64, was unequivocal.

“She took each opposition and threat and turned it around to show that she was a person who had wisdom and had courage and would be able to handle whatever came her way,” Myers said.

Michael Faust, 26, said he too was pleased with Palin’s speech, but spoke of the importance of the candidate’s experience governing her own state.

“She’s just what we need in a vice presidential candidate, and it’s about time we found someone with executive experience,” said Faust, who hails from Willernie, Minn. “It’s time for someone who knows how to manage agencies, who knows how to manage people — that’s what we need in the executive branch.”

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