ST. PAUL, MN (AP) - 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 were hastily rebuilding to fit his "town hall" approach.
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.
McCain's wife, Cindy, 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.
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.
"The extended podium will serve as a fitting complement to John McCain's preference for direct interaction with his fellow citizens," said Maria Cino, a convention official. Meanwhile, party leaders added two speakers to the night's lineup.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., will speak prior to Cindy McCain. Both are close to McCain. Ridge was considered a finalist for the No. 2 spot before McCain picked the Alaska governor. And Graham has appeared frequently with McCain on the campaign trail. 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 Democratic candidate Barack 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.
Axelrod also questioned her claim to be an outsider, given her sharp attacks on the Democratic nominee.
"For someone who makes that point that she's not from Washington, she looked very much like she would fit in very well there."
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.
Davis said he wasn't too concerned that McCain's speech would be up against the New York Giants-Washington Redskins kickoff game to the NFL season. In this day and age "news travels fast" Davis said, suggesting even those who miss McCain's speech were likely to catch up quickly.
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 politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers. And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change," said Palin, toying with the central theme in Obama's campaign.
In Washington, just hours before McCain's speech, a federal judge was to hand down a sentence for once-powerful lobbyist Jack Abramoff in a bribery scandal involving lawmakers and aides on Capitol Hill and officials in the Bush administration.
Abramoff, who has been cooperating in a corruption investigation that rocked Washington and contributed to the Republican loss of Congress in 2006, could face as much as 11 years in prison for treating officials and their aides to expensive meals, golf junkets and luxury sports tickets in return for political favors.
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.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)