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Forecast: High pressure system

"Forecast: High pressure system" Continued...

Issue: "Northern light," Sept. 20, 2008

Obama told reporters that candidates' children should remain off-limits, admonishing the press to "back off" the story, and reminding them that his mother gave birth at age 18. Others weren't so temperate. Tabloids churned out vicious cover stories, bloggers offered salacious commentary, and op-ed writers charged the Palins with hypocrisy. Us Weekly magazine headlined its cover of Palin and her 4-month-old, "Babies, Lies & Scandal," drawing over 6,000 comments on its website, most pointing out the contrast to an earlier cover on Obama family life headlined, "Why Barack Loves Her."

While some journalists examined legitimate questions about Palin's background and work history, many dismissed her candidacy before the questions were answered. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd scorned Palin's University of Idaho education and called Palin's candidacy "a hockey chick flick" and "a Cinderella story so preposterous it's hard to believe it's not premiering on Lifetime."

Meanwhile, press scrutiny of Obama's running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, remained scant, even as the News Journal, a Delaware newspaper, reported on Biden's statements about the driver who struck his family in a 1972 accident that killed Biden's wife and baby daughter.

As recently as last year, Biden told a crowd at the University of Iowa that the driver, Curtis Dunn, who died in 1999, "allegedly drank his lunch instead of eating his lunch" before the accident. The senator has made similar statements in the past, but the Delaware newspaper reported that investigators ruled alcohol wasn't involved in the crash.

The paper also reported that since the announcement of Biden's vice presidential nomination in August, The New York Times, National Public Radio, and The Economist have published stories characterizing Dunn as a drunk driver.

Dunn's daughter, Pamela Hammill, told the News Journal that her family is distraught to see Biden's comments surfacing, and that her father was haunted by the accident: "The family feels these statements are both hurtful and untrue and we didn't know where they originated from."

Biden spokesman David Wade told the paper that the senator "fully accepts the Dunn family's word that these rumors were false." But the retraction didn't capture national attention.

The worst of the media attention on Palin's family captured the ire of many conservatives. Gary Bauer, president of American Values and a former presidential candidate, told WORLD: "If the media and the far left keep savaging her, I suspect it will backfire."

One day later, Palin appeared defiant during an acceptance speech that more than 40 million Americans watched on live television. (Those numbers rivaled Obama's television audience from a week earlier.) After methodically introducing her family members, Palin told reporters questioning her experience that she wasn't going to Washington "to seek your good opinion."

Palin wowed convention-goers in the 18,000-seat Xcel Center, despite behind-the-scenes difficulties: From the press section, reporters could see that the teleprompter projecting Palin's speech moved too quickly, cutting off portions of text before Palin delivered them. At one point the teleprompter moved too slowly, prompting Palin to tell an unscripted joke to the delegates holding signs declaring "Hockey Moms for Palin." "You know what they say is the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull?" she asked. "Lipstick."

Palin may need pit bull grit and more to endure the next two months, which will likely include answering more questions about her background.

But if she needs grit, so will McCain. Though the week in Minnesota belonged to Palin, the rest of the campaign will belong mostly to the man on top of the ticket. "In the end people vote for a president," University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato told WORLD. "By the end of October, we won't be thinking much about Sarah Palin or Joe Biden."

What will voters be thinking about? If Obama has his way, voters will think about the economy. If McCain has his way, they'll think about foreign policy and national security. In all likelihood, they'll be thinking of both. Meanwhile, McCain and Obama will focus on a common goal: wooing moderate and independent voters.

McCain began that effort in earnest during his acceptance speech on Thursday night, when he lambasted corruption in his own party: "We were elected to change Washington, and we let Washington change us. We lost the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption. We lost their trust when rather than reform government, both parties made it bigger."

To convention-goers' delight, McCain touted a conservative agenda of lower taxes and smaller government, but he also reminded voters that he's fought corruption on both ends of the spectrum: "I fought tobacco companies and trial lawyers, drug companies and union bosses."

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