From NBC/NJ's Matthew E. Berger and NBC's Mark Murray
HENDERSON, Nev. -- In a complete shift of focus, Palin today devoted almost her entire speech here to women's issues, suggesting Obama is guilty of gender inequality.
Palin's argument was both personal and political Tuesday: She made an appeal to break a glass ceiling herself, as she accused Obama of overlooking a woman for a promotion by not choosing Hillary Clinton as his running mate.
"You've got to ask yourself: Why was Sen. Hillary Clinton not even vetted by the Obama campaign?" she said at an outdoor rally outside of Las Vegas. "Why did it take 24 years, an entire generation from the time Geraldine Ferraro made her pioneering bid until the next time that a woman was asked to join a national ticket?"
And she accused Obama of committing gender bias himself by not paying men and women on his Senate staff equally. She said Senate payroll records found women on his staff received 83 cents for every dollar males received. "Does he think that the women aren't working as hard?" she asked. "Does he think that they are 17% less productive? And Barack Obama can't say that this is just the way that its always been done around the Capitol, because I know one senator who actually does pay equal wages for equal work, Sen. John McCain."
The Obama campaign responds, however, that the study Palin was citing has nothing to do with equal pay for equal work. The study noted that men in Obama's Senate office -- not his campaign -- tended to serve in higher-level positions and thus made more money.
Obama senior adviser Anita Dunn added, "Sen. Obama has fought for equal pay for an equal day's work, while Sen. McCain has suggested that women don't get equal pay because they need more education and training. While Sen. Obama has proposed a plan to help working women, the McCain-Palin campaign offers just more negative attacks and distortions."
Palin's speech today was reminiscent of her earliest remarks after joining the Republican ticket, when she sought to appeal to female voters -- and in particular -- Democrats who backed Clinton in the primary. Palin abandoned mentioning Clinton in her stump speech in August, after her name evoked boos from the Republican crowd.
But attempts to woo Clinton supporters were all over her remarks Tuesday, as she stood with Clinton supporters who represented traditionally liberal outlets like the National Organization of Women and Ms. Magazine. Clinton did particularly well among women in the Nevada caucus in January. *** UPDATE *** Ms. Magazine just called First Read to point out that the supporter Palin stood next to was a former editor-in-chief of the magazine. The magazine hasn't endorsed a candidate.
Palin's remarks differed widely from her current stump speech. Gone were attacks on Obama centered on his ties to a terrorist or a community group accused of voter-registration fraud. Her attacks from earlier Tuesday -- suggesting Obama was unqualified as commander in chief -- were nowhere to be found.
Campaign aides called her remarks a "closing argument," and said it was intended to highlight a perceived vulnerability for Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden.
"Our opponents think that they have the women's vote all locked up, which is a little presumptuous," Palin said. "A little presumptuous since only our side has a woman on the ticket."
Palin weaved concerns for women into policy discussions, arguing Obama's tax plan would hurt female-owned small businesses, and pushing for increases in child care, better health care and retirement options.
"It's a matter of fundamental fairness in this country," she said. "And to make all this happen, working mothers need an advocate, and they will have one when this working mother is working for all of you in the White House."