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McCain Takes Center Stage At GOP Convention

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. Tonight, the Republican convention will hear from John McCain. It is the last night of the GOP gathering, when the senator will officially accept the presidential nomination.

Last week, Barack Obama's speech was staged dramatically at the football stadium in Denver, and the setting for McCain's speech is being redesigned for a more intimate effect.

Our co-host, Robert Siegel, is on the convention floor, where that remodeling is going on now, and Robert joins us. Robert, what's happening there in the background?

(Soundbite of song, "The Star-Spangled Banner")

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Well, what you're hearing is a rehearsal of the national anthem by Trace Atkins, which just began just a couple of seconds before you came to me, and before that Senator McCain was out on the now-completed, remodeled set. The stage has sort of been drawn out into the floor.

The Ohio delegation that was sitting front and center for very specific political reasons has been moved away so that John McCain, when he speaks to tonight, will sort of be in a theater-in-the-round situation, surrounded by delegates on three sides, and that way he'll be in a situation closer to his usual town-meeting presentation at which he is very good.

I hope you'll forgive me for speaking over the national anthem. It was only a rehearsal. The real one will come later. I won't talk over it.

NORRIS: We forgive you, Robert. Who else is speaking tonight?

SIEGEL: Also some runners-up for the vice presidency: Tom Ridge, who will talk about John McCain's leadership; and Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, the host governor, who according to many reports was the last man standing in the competition for running mate and was passed over in the end.

NORRIS: Now, judging from what we saw and we heard, the delegates seemed to be fired up, quite fired up by Sarah Palin. Have you had a chance to get specific reaction to her speech today?

SIEGEL: Yes, and I think fired up is an understatement. I heard this - not a home run, a grand slam was one appraisal that I heard from more than one person.

A waitress who served me this morning talked about how moved she was and about how she's thinking of voting for John McCain specifically because of Sarah Palin and the speech that she gave last night. Another woman, an independent woman, told me much the same as she was watching the speech on television last night.

This was, you know, as they say, red meat for the base, for very conservative Republicans. They considered it an absolute success and can fault Sarah Palin for absolutely nothing. None of the criticisms of her or questions that have been raised about whatever she's done in Alaska, none of that seems to have in any way dimmed people's enthusiasm for John McCain's selection here.

NORRIS: When John McCain speaks tonight, from the delegates you're speaking with, do they want to hear a similar attack on his rival, on Barack Obama, or are they looking for more specifics, on what he's going to talk about to get the economy going?

SIEGEL: They're looking for specifics, and some folks we talked to in Ohio this morning at their delegation were pretty clear. He's got to connect with folks and talk about hurting in the economy today.

He will talk about, you know, the war in Georgia and sanctioning the Russians. That will figure in his speech for sure. The question is how well would he connect on questions of people's homes and gas bills and inflation.

NORRIS: Well, thank you, Robert. Good to talk with you, Michele.

SIEGEL: Good to talk with you, Michele.

NORRIS: That was our co-host, Robert Siegel, on the convention floor in St. Paul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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