In a Thursday morning conference call for reporters organized by the Democratic National Committee, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius pushed back against the idea that Republicans have cornered the market on small-town American values.
"I live in the American heartland, and have been a governor [here] for six years," she said. "I don't know any mayor in any small town in Kansas -- and we have a lot of mayors of small towns -- who hires a lobbyist and goes after earmarks the way Sarah Palin did." On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that, as mayor of Wasilla, Palin secured more than $27 million in federal earmarks for a town with only 6,700 residents.
In her speech, Palin made a not-so-subtle pitch to snatch the sympathies of small-town voters -- touting her own experience as a mayor, and contrasting her self-professed values with those of Barack Obama. "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," Palin said, referring to remarks Obama made at a San Francisco fundraiser earlier this year.
Sebelius would have none of it. "What I hear from these folks in the heartland, is that people want to know how they're going to afford health care ... whether they're going to keep their jobs [and manage] the cost of gas and groceries," Sebelius said. "Again last night, what we heard were partisan attacks and no real solutions. ... I work with a Republican legislature every day. And I know what people expect us to do ... is to roll up your sleeves and get the job done."
"There's a disconnect between the way she positions herself as a small-town mayor ... and an inside Washington strategy," Sebelius added. "The kind of persona she is putting forward is very enticing, but I don't think it matches with her positions."
Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz hammered a similar theme, saying that Palin "had a real problem with the truth last night" and adding that "even her hometown newspaper said she stretched the truth." (a reference to Thursday's Anchorage Daily News headline: "Some Of Palin's Remarks Stretch The Truth.")
Schultz also suggested that Palin had simply done a good job of robotically delivering an address she had little hand in crafting herself. "Whenever I have had to give significant speeches, I've spent a lot of time with the people assisting me in drafting remarks, adding my own voice," Schultz said. "Last night, I only heard Sarah Palin's voice [through] negative partisan attacks, with no substance or vision of where she thinks the country should go."
On Palin's effort to position herself and McCain as reformers, Schultz asked, "Where is the beef? Where is the evidence? Sarah Palin is not a reformer, she is under investigation in her home state for the abuse of power in trying to get a state trooper fired... If her best example of being a reformer was trying to sell a plane on E-Bay, that is not my definition of reform."
Shultz also questioned Palin's readiness to lead. "To say that her experience as a mayor of a town of 7,000 people ... makes her qualified to have her hands on the pillar of American foreign policy, if God forbid anything happens to John McCain, to suggest that is frightening," she said. "What kind of experience does Sarah Palin have to sit across the table from negotiators of the dangerous countries of this world?"
Obama adviser Robert Gibbs stepped in to rebut a few points of fact from Palin's speech. Specifically, he cited her reference to family members who own a small service station, saying they were precisely the kind of Americans who would receive "three times the tax relief" under Obama's tax plan. Gibbs also noted that Palin "picked up the worn-out playbook of Joe Lieberman," by claiming that Obama cannot point to any substantive legislative accomplishments. Even some of John McCain's surrogates know, Gibbs said, that the ethics and lobbying reforms in 2007, "the toughest since the scandal of Watergate," were passed due to Obama's work across party lines.