Palin reports throw curve to campaign

September 3, 2008

Source: The Boston Globe
ST. PAUL – John McCain’s campaign hoped that the five days between the introduction of Sarah Palin as his running mate and her high-stakes speech tonight to the Republican National Convention would let it weave a narrative about the Alaska governor as a kindred maverick reformer who shares McCain’s disdain for pork barrel projects and political corruption.

But almost from the moment of her unveiling, one report after another has deconstructed that story line. Instead, voters are seeing reports that have questioned whether she really opposed the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” as she claimed, whether she abused her office’s power in firing a state official, and why she hired a lobbying firm to land nearly $27 million in federal projects while she was mayor of Wasilla.

These issues, going to the heart of her reputation as a reformer, are being raised as the campaign continued to deal with Monday’s disclosure that Palin’s 17-year-old unmarried daughter is five months pregnant. The issues have spurred questions about whether Palin’s record and background were fully reviewed before she was put on the ticket.

McCain told reporters yesterday that “the vetting process was completely thorough” and gave a vote of confidence to Palin. However, campaign officials have acknowledged that they limited their vetting in Alaska because they wanted to keep the possible selection of Palin a secret.

They said yesterday that Palin filled out a detailed 40-page questionnaire and had a three-hour interview with a lawyer, A.B. Culvahouse, who oversaw the vetting process. A spokesman for the
McCain campaign, asked whether staff members went to Alaska, did not provide a response.

The swirl of stories about Palin has prompted the McCain campaign to rewrite the Palin narrative, focusing on their belief that the revelation of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy and her decision to keep the baby and marry the father have actually endeared Sarah Palin even more strongly to Republicans.

“I have gotten to know Governor Palin the last couple of days, and I have been attending Republican conventions since 1992,” said Steve Duprey, a senior McCain aide who is working with Palin, in an interview yesterday. “I have never seen a party more fired up about a vice presidential nominee than this party is about Governor Palin.”

McCain’s campaign is aggressively hitting back at what it calls “smears” against Palin “being circulated by left-wing bloggers” and being amplified unfairly by the media. Yesterday, it sent out Palin’s voter registration records, showing she signed up as a Republican in 1982, to counter reports that she was a member of the Alaska Independence Party, many of whose members advocate seceding from the United States. The Associated Press reported that her husband, Todd, has been a member of the party.

It also sent a video about Palin to supporters that shows her speaking Friday in Ohio about her record of taking on bureaucrats and oil companies, while making no mention of the controversies. The video features flattering newspaper headlines and Democrat Hillary Clinton congratulating her as Palin talks about smashing the “highest, hardest glass ceiling” once and for all.

Palin herself has kept a low profile since arriving in St. Paul on Sunday, spending much of her time preparing for the speech tonight. The McCain campaign released a photo of her sitting yesterday with Laura Bush and Cindy McCain.

While many Republican elected officials and convention delegates rallied around Palin, it was not clear whether their enthusiasm will be echoed outside the convention as the GOP ticket hopes to pick up votes of independents and Democrats. A CNN poll found that her selection had minimal impact on support for McCain. Palin was viewed favorably by 38 percent of those surveyed and unfavorably by 21 percent, while 20 percent had not heard of her and 21 percent gave no opinion.

In introducing Palin as his running mate last Friday, McCain repeatedly cited her credentials on “reform and public integrity.” Palin herself said she “stood up to the old politics as usual, to the special interests, to the lobbyists, the big oil companies, and the good-old-boy network.”

But Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan group that publicizes pork barrel projects, said in a report issued this week that Palin’s record against federal “earmarks” – which McCain opposes – has evolved over time. She was a city councilor and mayor of Wasilla at a time when the town of about 9,000 people received $27 million worth of earmarks after hiring a Washington lobbying firm. The projects included $15 million for a rail commuter line to Anchorage, which benefited Wasilla and other communities on the route, as well as $800,000 for an airport, $1 million for a transit center, and $2.4 million for water and sewer projects.

“She asked for earmarks in each of her executive jobs,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “Clearly she is in a different position from Senator McCain there.”

Palin, in her introductory speech Friday, said she was aligned with McCain in opposing earmark projects, citing the example of the “Bridge to Nowhere,” which McCain has frequently cited as the worst example of unnecessary federal spending. Palin said she told Congress “thanks but no thanks on that bridge to nowhere.”

However, Palin was supportive of the $233 million bridge, a span from the city of Ketchikan to Gravina Island, when she ran for governor in 2006. She opposed it after being elected governor, at a time when the attacks by McCain and others had made the project unpopular, according to Alaskan media reports.

As governor, Palin asked this year for 31 federal earmarks totaling $198 million, down from $550 million in her first year in office. But that’s still about $295 per Alaska resident, compared with the national average of $34 per person, according to Citizens Against Government Waste.

Palin has asked the state personnel board to review allegations that she abused her position in firing Alaska’s public safety commissioner, the AP reported last night. The case is already the subject of an investigation authorized by the Alaska Legislature examining whether Palin pushed the firing because the commissioner declined to fire a trooper who was going through a contentious divorce with Palin’s sister. The campaign yesterday said it investigated the matter and is convinced Palin did nothing wrong.

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