- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2008

UPDATED:

ST. PAUL, Minn. | Sen. John McCain’s camp said it was done discussing the vetting of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, as the Republican’s vice presidential candidate prepared to give her speech here to the Republican National Convention.

Palin took a quick walk through the Xcel Energy Center this morning and stood behind the podium where she will deliver a prime time address Wednesday night. She told reporters that she was excited to give the speech, which is widely awaited.

Little known outside her state, Palin has been lashed by revelations about her—ranging from personal to professional—and McCain supporters are eager to make her first major appearance before a large national audience be a positive one.

For now, the campaign is shutting down its effort to quiet questions from the media about the thoroughness of the background checks it did of Palin before she was named McCain’s running mate.

“The McCain campaign will have no further comment about our long and thorough process,” said Steve Schmidt, a McCain senior adviser. “This nonsense is over. It is time to begin the debate about how to win the two wars this country is engaged in; how to make this country energy independent; and how to create jobs for American families that are hurting. The American people get to do the vetting now on Election Day November 4.”

He said Palin’s selection came “after a six-month long rigorous vetting process where her extraordinary credentials and exceptionalism became clear. This vetting controversy is a faux media scandal designed to destroy the first female Republican nominee for vice president of the United States who has never been a part of the old boys’ network that has come to dominate the news establishment in this country.”

Related story:Palin offers details about Troopergate

ST. PAUL, Minn. | As Hurricane Gustav released its grip on the Republican National Convention on Tuesday, John McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, was turning into Hurricane Sarah - a storm of charges and countercharges that further roiled the gathering.

The news was full of reports that Mrs. Palin supported Alaska’s infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” before she turned against it, that she had hired an attorney to defend her against charges of pressuring a state official to fire her former brother-in-law, that she had solicited millions of dollars in pork-barrel spending for the town where she once was mayor, and, in the biggest bombshell, her announcement that her single, 17-year-old daughter is five months pregnant.

The McCain campaign fiercely denounced the criticisms, but none of this attention was welcome to a campaign trying to position the Alaska governor as a pro-family reformer eager to change the ways of Washington. Even some delegates to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul expressed concern amid hopes that her speech Wednesday would help put those worries to rest.

Former Rep. Charles F. Bass, president of the politically centrist Republican Main Street Partnership, said Mrs. Palin’s speech is “the No. 1 priority here at the convention, even more important than John McCain’s, because she needs to be introduced to the American people. That speech will either make people yawn or make them sit up in their chairs.”

At the same time, Mrs. Palin’s presence on the ticket has resulted in what might be the largest surge in McCain fundraising to date, $8 million over the Internet in the three days after she was announced Friday as Mr. McCain’s running mate.

She retained unstinting support from many evangelical and family values voters who had been skeptical of Mr. McCain’s candidacy.

As the allegations and responses were swirling, Mrs. Palin sat in her hotel suite “devouring briefing materials like a tiger,” a Palin aide said. She met Tuesday afternoon for two hours with Matt Scully, her lead speechwriter, who had worked with her on her first speech as Mr. McCain’s choice last week in Ohio.

Many Republicans attending the convention bridled at any suggestion that the negative reports about Mrs. Palin would dampen their enthusiasm. “A lot of us are just rooting for her and thinking she should say to detractors, ‘Back at you,’” said Washington-based elections-law analyst Cleta Mitchell, who is attending the convention. “When you take the national stage, you have to show what you are made of. This is a test, and I want her to pass this test.”

Mr. McCain’s campaign, accused supporters of the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, of heaping “garbage” on Mrs. Palin’s record and reputation.

“I know that the Obama campaign is pushing around many false attacks on Governor Palin, and wanted to make sure you had the facts,” McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said. “It would be nice if the media outlets covering this garbage actually did their due diligence in reporting, and didn’t just push Obama campaign-Daily Kos smears.”

The campaign deluged reporters with documents and e-mails refuting some of the reports.

Mr. McCain defended his campaign against suggestions it had failed to properly vet Mrs. Palin before naming her as his running mate. “The vetting process was completely thorough, and I’m grateful for the results,” he said while campaigning in Philadelphia.

Reports said investigators poured into Alaska after Mr. McCain announced his selection in order to more thoroughly look into the governor’s background, but Mr. Porritt said “the vetting process was done” by then.

Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr., a longtime Washington lawyer, conducted the vetting process. He led a team of 20 investigators who started off with a list of 30 potential running mates, but that was soon trimmed to just six, Mr. Porritt said.

Some of the negative information surfacing about Mrs. Palin appears too slight or old to be deal-breaking with voters. Her husband was arrested 22 years ago on a drunken-driving charge, for example, and she was cited for a fishing violation 15 years ago.

“All of those came out voluntarily,” Mr. Porritt said, noting that Mrs. Palin also underwent a three- to four-hour personal interview.

“It all came out through the process, and that’s proof that the process works,” he said.

Several other reports have turned out to be false. Daily Kos, a liberal Web site, posted a rumor shortly after Mrs. Palin was selected saying her 5-month-old child was actually mothered by her now-pregnant daughter.

A New York Times report on Tuesday said Mrs. Palin “was a member for two years in the 1990s of the Alaska Independence Party.”

“Not true,” McCain aide Michael Goldfarb wrote on the candidate’s Web site. “Governor Palin has been a registered Republican since 1982,” he said, and the campaign later sent out a massive e-mail showing voter-registration documents dating back to 1990.

Party leaders told a television network that Mrs. Palin and her husband had been a members at one time, but backed off when questioned Tuesday by The Washington Times.

Mrs. Palin addressed the Independence Party’s state convention by video earlier this year, welcoming the party to Fairbanks, but she said nothing in her speech that indicated she was a current or past member of the party.

“If the Alaska Independence Party at some point taught Governor Palin their secret handshake, there is no record of it,” Mr. Goldfarb said.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton said the reports he had seen indicated that “the only person talking about her being in the Alaska Independence Party is the head of the Alaska Independence Party. Their gripe is with those folks.”

An investigation into charges that Mrs. Palin may have abused her office began to look more serious with a report that the governor has hired an attorney to defend her in the probe by the Alaska Legislature.

Former state Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan has charged that he was fired after he refused to fire Mrs. Palin’s former brother-in-law, a state trooper who was engaged in a bitter custody battle with the governor’s sister. Mrs. Palin maintains that the firing had nothing to do with the family dispute.

The nonpartisan group Taxpayers for Common Sense detailed payments to a lobbying firm resulting in almost $27 million in federal benefits for Mrs. Palin’s town, Wasilla. The earmarks included a transportation hub, a youth center and a $15 million rail project.

Earmarks are a favorite target of Mr. McCain in his fight to clean up government.

Mrs. Palin also boasted last week that she opposed the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” a more than $200 million span that became the poster child for runaway federal spending. But in interviews with Alaska newspapers, she said she once supported the project among other alternatives.

On Friday in Dayton, Ohio, Mrs. Palin was proud to proclaim herself a fellow reformer, standing alongside Mr. McCain.

“I have championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress,” Mrs. Palin said. “In fact, I told Congress, I told Congress ‘thanks but no thanks’ on that Bridge to Nowhere.

“If our state wanted a bridge, I said we’d build it ourselves,” she said.

Joseph Curl contributed to this article from Philadelphia. Jon Ward contributed to this article from St. Paul.

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