At convention, GOP hails McCain as maverick

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(AP) - President Bush led a convention chorus ofpraise for John McCain Tuesday night, hailing him as a "ready tolead this nation" and a courageous candidate who risked his WhiteHouse ambitions to support an unpopular Iraq war. Republicansrallied forcefully behind vice presidential running mate SarahPalin in the face of fresh controversy.

Barack Obama drew criticism from the convention podium when Sen.Joseph Lieberman said the Democratic presidential candidate votedto cut off funding "for our troops on the ground" in Iraq lastyear. By contrast, Lieberman, who was the Democrats' vicepresidential nominee in 2000, said McCain had the courage "tostand against the tide of public opinion."

McCain was in Pennsylvania and Ohio during the day, campaigninghis way into the convention city where the 72-year-old Arizonasenator will deliver his formal acceptance speech on Thursdaynight.

Hundreds of miles to the west, in St. Paul, about two dozen menwho were Vietnam prisoners with him a generation ago sparked chantsof "USA, USA" when they were introduced to the delegates.

Bush reprised the national security themes that propelled him toa second term as he spoke - briefly - from the White House. "Weneed a president who understands the lessons of Sept. 11, 2001,"he said in prepared remarks. "That to protect America, we muststay on offense, stop attacks before they happen and not wait to behit again. The man we need is John McCain."

Inside the convention hall, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompsondelivered a strong defense of Palin. He said the Alaska governor,was "from a small town, with small town values, but that's notgood enough for those folks who are attacking her and her family."

He said McCain's decision to place her on the ticket "has theother side and their friends in the media in a state of panic."

Other Republicans - delegates and luminaries alike - defendedPalin, who disclosed on Monday that her 17-year-old unmarrieddaughter is pregnant. In addition, a lawyer has been hired torepresent the governor in an ethics-related controversy back homein Alaska.

Conservatives, slow to warm to McCain even after he clinched thenomination last spring, were particularly supportive.

"I haven't seen anything that comes out about her that in anyway troubles me or shakes my confidence in her," said formerArkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who ran unsuccessfully for the party'spresidential nomination this year.

"All it has done for me is say she is a human person with areal family."

And Ron Nehring, chairman of the California state party, saidvideo footage of Palin on a firing range was helping her cause.

"The reports I'm getting back is that every time they show thatfootage we get 1,000 precinct walkers from the NRA," he toldmembers of his state's delegation, to laughter. "She cuts taxesand 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 ofthe unborn or a newly born baby is above his pay grade," he saidin prepared remarks, referring to a recent episode in whichMcCain's White House rival said it was "above my pay grade" todecide the point at which an unborn child is entitled to rights.

There were indications that Republicans thought they could turnPalin-related controversy to McCain's gain. Officials said LeviJohnston, the 18-year-old father of the baby Bristol Palin isexpecting, was en route to the convention from his home in Wasilla,Alaska.

McCain's wife, Cindy, took in the evening program from a VIPbox. So, too, former President George H.W. Bush, accompanied by hiswife Barbara.

Bush, with his approval ratings in the 30-percent range, wasrelegated to a relatively minor role at the convention of a partythat has twice nominated him to the White House. The presidentscrapped a planned Monday night speech because of the threatHurricane Gustav posed to New Orleans. With polls making it clearthe nation is ready for a change, the McCain campaign indicatedthere was no reason for him to make the trip to St. Paul.

The president referred to the years of torture McCain endured asa prisoner of war. Then Bush added, "If the Hanoi Hilton could notbreak John McCain's resolve to do what is best for his country, youcan be sure the angry left never will."

"As president he will stand up to the high tax crowd inCongress ... and lift the ban for drilling on America's offshoreoil," Bush added.

As for Palin, despite Thompson's remarks - and McCain'sdeclaration that he was satisfied with the scrutiny his aides hadgiven the governor before her selection- there were freshdisclosures.

Among them: that both as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and asgovernor, she had sought earmarks for local projects. Her mostrecent round of requests totaled $300 for every Alaskan. McCain hasfrequently vowed to veto any earmark legislation, and has said shewill be a force in his battle to wipe them out.

Additionally, the lawyer hired to defend Palin in an ethicsinvestigation said he also is representing her personally and ispermitted to bill the state up to $95,000 for work in the currentcase. The issue involves the dismissal of public safetycommissioner Walt Monegan after he refused to fire a state trooperwho had divorced the governor's sister.

Republicans handed Lieberman the prime spot in the eveninglineup, and he blended praise for McCain with criticism of Obama.

"When others wanted to retreat in defeat from the field ofbattle, when Barack Obama was voting to cut off funding for ourtroops on the ground, John McCain had the courage to stand againstthe tide of public opinion," the ConnecticutDemocratic-turned-independent senator said in excerpts released inadvance of his speech.

The decision to place Lieberman out front on the convention'ssecond night capped an unprecedented political migration. Onlyeight years ago, he stood before a cheering throng at theDemocratic National Convention in Los Angeles and accepted thenomination as Al Gore's running mate.

In the years since, he lost badly in 2004 when he sought theDemocratic presidential nomination, lost a Democratic nominationfor a new term at home in Connecticut in 2006, then recoveredquickly to win re-election as an independent.

Back in the Senate, his vote allows the Democrats to command anarrow majority, yet he has been one of the most outspokensupporters of the war in Iraq. He has traveled widely with McCainin recent months, and occasionally has angered Democrats withremarks critical of Obama.

One day after a frightening Gulf Coast hurricane prompted asubdued opening to the McCain convention, political combat enjoyeda resurgence.

McCain's aides disputed a claim that vice presidential runningmate Sarah Palin had once been a member of a third party - andaccused Democratic rival Obama's camp of spreading falseinformation.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton said that as far as he'd seen, "theonly person talking about her being in the Alaska IndependenceParty is the head of the Alaska Independence Party."

"Their gripe is with those folks," he said of the McCaincampaign.

Protesters outside the hall vowed to resume demonstrations thatturned violent on Monday and resulted in 286 arrests.

News 12 Hudson Valley ? Election ?08

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