Continued from page 1

If a male candidate had answered the door in similar attire, it almost surely would have been regarded as unremarkable and gone unreported, said Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer and legal adviser to Republican Senate and House members.

“Sarah Palin did exactly what she was supposed to do: She energized the conservative base for McCain, she brought excitement to the GOP convention and the campaign, and she absolutely jump-started the RNC’s and state parties’ fundraising in September,” Mrs. Mitchell said.

“The fact is that McCain’s ‘handlers’ - the same people who are now trashing Sarah Palin - made McCain look and seem erratic during the September economic events,” Mrs. Mitchell said. “That was the end of the McCain campaign and that is hardly Sarah Palin’s fault. These white boys need to go look in a mirror when they’re looking for someone to blame for the loss.”

Mrs. Abraham noted that the McCain campaign “had never attracted the large crowds it until Sarah came along. There was an immediate surge in the polls because of her.”

“The anonymous accusations against Governor Palin reflect badly on the campaign, and John McCain deserved better treatment from his aides,” Mrs. Abraham added.

Rarely has so much anonymous backbiting among the staff of a presidential campaign made it into the press as happened with the McCain campaign.

Fox News contributor Fred Barnes publicly blamed McCain aide Nicole Wallace for the rash of stories just before Election Day that Mrs. Palin had spent $150,000 of campaign money at expensive stores to outfit herself and her family for their campaign appearances.

Accused by some McCain senior staff members of being one of the leakers, Mrs. Wallace told Ana Marie Cox at the Daily Beast that there was “an organized campaign to lay blame for things at my feet” on the clothes story, but that she was “not going to engage before the campaign ends.”

Some Palin defenders have wondered why Mr. McCain did not dispute the accusations against her more aggressively.

But Mr. Black told The Times, “McCain and his senior staff were happy with her performance and deny rumors to the contrary. McCain and we have great affection for her.”

It was not the McCain campaign but “the Republican National Committee that went out and bought her clothes and some of those are going to be returned,” Mr. Black said.

Mr. Schmidt gasped and uttered an expletive when told that some of the anonymous accusations against Mrs. Palin in the press were being attributed to him.

Mr. Black and Mr. Schmidt both insisted they didn’t know who in the McCain campaign team was spreading false stories about Mrs. Palin, though Mr. Black said the stories were being spread by liberals in the press eager to discredit the Republican candidate.