McCain to accept nomination on 'town hall' stage
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - John McCain embarks on his final drive for the White House Thursday night, accepting the Republican presidential nomination and addressing the party's national convention from a stage that workers hastily rebuilt to fit his "town hall" approach.
McCain checked out the setup in midafternoon, chatting on stage with his wife, Cindy, and Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. Graham speaks Thursday night; Lieberman spoke on Tuesday.
Elsewhere, on the final day of the convention, a lot of the talk was still about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the vice presidential nominee who gave her big introductory speech Wednesday night, less than a week after being chosen for the ticket.
Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama shrugged off the speech as a rehashing of McCain's policies and suggested Democrats would not slacken their criticism.
"I think she's got a compelling story, but I assume she wants to be treated the same way that guys want to be treated," he told reporters during a campaign stop in York, Pa. "I've been through this 19 months, she's been through it — what — four days so far?"
He said he would focus his attention on McCain and "who's got a better agenda to move this country forward."
Cindy McCain suggested in one interview that she doesn't agree with Palin's support for a nearly total ban on abortions.
And Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden declared that some news coverage of his Republican counterpart had been sexist.
For her part, Palin said she was looking forward to McCain's acceptance speech. "We are all very excited about tonight," she told reporters after meeting with a group of Republican governors in next-door Minneapolis. "The people of this country will once again see tonight the conviction and the character that make him a great man, an honorable man and will make him a great president."
Parts of the platform at the Xcel Energy Center were removed by construction workers on Thursday to bring delegates closer to where McCain will give his acceptance speech, giving the stage a T-shape. Organizers said the change reflected the town hall-type forums in which McCain has campaigned.
Meanwhile, party leaders added two speakers to the night's lineup. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and Graham will speak prior to Cindy McCain.
Delegates will also vote Thursday night to make the convention's nomination of Palin official. And McCain himself will close out the activities with his prime-time acceptance speech.
Democrats struck back on Thursday, dismissing rave GOP reviews of Palin's speech and asserting that the Alaska governor had misrepresented Obama's record. "There wasn't one thing that she said about Obama or what he's proposing that is true," top Obama strategist David Axelrod told reporters in Pennsylvania.
Biden, campaigning in Virginia, said he would challenge Palin on issues "as strongly as I can" — but would refrain from personal attacks.
"I'm not good at one-line zingers. That's not my deal," he said at a forum in Virginia Beach. He said he believed Palin was "going to be an incredibly competent debater." The two face off on Oct. 2 in St. Louis.
Obama's lead over McCain was virtually unchanged since the GOP convention began, according to a Gallup Poll. The Democrat led 49 percent to 42 percent, based on interviews conducted Monday through Wednesday. All but a few of the interviews were conducted before Palin gave her Wednesday night speech.
In a Gallup survey covering last Friday through Sunday — before the Republican gathering began — Obama led by a similar 6 percentage points.
McCain's speech was expected to provide the climax to the four-day convention. His wife, Cindy, admitted that she was nervous about addressing delegates herself.
Cindy McCain told ABC's "Good Morning America" she doesn't agree with Palin's opposition to abortion in cases of rape and incest. And they also part ways on sex education. "I don't agree with that aspect, but I do respect her for her views," she said.
Palin opposes abortion and rejects the view that pregnancies caused by rape and incest should be exceptions. The Alaska governor's only exception would be when a doctor determines that continuing a pregnancy would lead to the death of the mother. Palin has also opposed government financing of sex-education programs in Alaska. Cindy McCain told ABC that she advocated abstinence as a part of sex education at her children's school, but "I believe that it's twofold and I think all of it should be taught."
Palin and her husband, Todd, announced this week that their 17-year-old unmarried daughter was pregnant and would be marrying her boyfriend, saying they were making a private matter public because of Internet rumors.
Biden said the Democratic campaign was not criticizing Palin over her family.
"It is off limits to talk about her family," the Delaware senator said in an interview with "Fox and Friends" on Fox News Channel. "Every family has difficulty as they're raising their children. I think the way she's handled it has been absolutely exemplary."
Asked if some of the criticism aimed at Palin has been sexist, Biden said: "Yes, by you guys in the media."
The McCain camp expressed satisfaction with the generally positive reception that Palin's speech had received from the public.
"I have no doubt that Gov. Sarah Palin today is a household name," McCain campaign manager Rick Davis told reporters in a conference call.
In his acceptance speech, McCain is expected to review his career in public service — first as a Naval Academy midshipman and wartime pilot and then as a 26-year veteran of Congress — while drawing stark policy differences with Democratic candidate Barack Obama.
Democratic critics have questioned Palin's political experience as a small-town mayor and her brief tenure as Alaska's governor. Wednesday night she offered a searing, sometimes sarcastic attack on the opposing ticket.
Palin joined other Republican speakers Wednesday night in praising McCain as a man of character, a former Vietnam prisoner of war who had spent his early career in the military and had sought to change the ways of politics in Washington.
In downtown Minneapolis, police arrested 102 protesters early Thursday after a rock concert. Since Saturday, more than 400 people have been arrested for convention-related protests in both St. Paul and neighboring Minneapolis.