ST PAUL, Minnesota (AFP) — Republican women leaders Wednesday leapt to the defense of under fire vice-presidential pick Sarah Palin, saying she had been the victim of unfair and sexist attacks.
They expressed confidence that the 44-year-old mother of five, who won thunderous applause for her high-stakes primetime speech to the party convention Wednesday, would gain the confidence of average American women.
Named as Senator John McCain's wildcard running mate, Palin faced the same dilemma as ex-first lady Hillary Clinton in her failed bid to become Democratic presidential candidate, Republican women leaders said.
"I have been told by many, many Democrats over the last several months how disappointed they were in their own party for not standing up against the sexist smears that Hillary Clinton endured," said Carly Fiorina, former boss of computer-making giant Hewlett-Packard.
"The Republican party will not stand by while Sarah Palin is subjected to sexist attacks ... and as women, I think all of us are sensitized and outraged when we see sexist treatment," she told a press conference on the sidelines of the Republican convention in St Paul, Minnesota.
The convention is expected on Thursday to anoint Palin as the Republican party's first female vice presidential candidate.
"I haven't talked to anybody who is not ecstatic about the decision to have Palin as our VP. We have a woman on the ticket, this is a historic moment," said Valerie White, a delegate from North Carolina to the convention.
"Palin's candidacy was what McCain needed. I was moderately happy with the McCain ticket, now I have to temper my enthusiasm," said Kendal Unruh, delegate from Castle Rock, Colorado.
Despite the upbeat note, a new poll released Wednesday said women voters remain unswayed by the choice of devout Christian Palin and favored the Democrat ticket of Barack Obama and his VP choice Joseph Biden.
Fiorina charged that some liberal websites had brushed off Palin, a reformer and corruption crusader among many of her Alaskan compatriots, as just a "cheer leader from the West" while supermarket tabloids had described her trailblazing candidacy as one of "sex and babies and lies."
She and other leading Republican women lambasted the media for "demonizing" Palin through "unfair attacks."
Palin herself lashed out at the media Wednesday, which she blamed for fanning a clutch of controversies dogging her election chances.
"I'm not a member of the permanent political establishment and I've learned quickly, these past few days, that if you're not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone," she said.
First time governor Palin's lack of foreign policy expertise and general lack of experience has become as much a talking point as her family life in the media.
An outspoken abortion foe, Palin dropped a bombshell just after being named McCain's running mate last week, revealing that her unwed teenage daughter was pregnant and was planning to marry the baby's father.
But Palin's decision to give birth to a son knowing he had Down syndrome has made her a popular choice among pro-life activists.
"Who better than her to understand the challenges that we have as career women trying to balance career and family?" asked former US treasurer Rosario Marin criticizing the media for unfairly questioning her credentials.
"And yet what we have is a media that outrageously has said things about her that it would never dare to say about a man," said Marin, who also has a Down Syndrome child.
Marsha Blackburn, the Republican lawmaker from Tennessee, said conservative women leaders who had "put our names on the line and have run for office understand exactly what Sarah Palin is going through today.
"What is so interesting to me, having run for office and having served at state and federal levels, is the way the media continues to attack conservative women, to seek a way to diminish their record and to demonize their actions," she said.
Meg Whitman, former chief executive of top online auctioneer eBay Inc., said Palin's experience in shepharding Alaska's oil industry, would be useful in helping make the United States energy independent.
Blackburn said Palin had managed resource-rich Alaska with 24,000 employees and a 10 billion dollar budget and asked: "How many men, who put their name on the line to run for office, have done that?
"That is a significant accomplishment."
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