How thoroughly did McCain's campaign vet Palin?

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 1, 2008 

Bristol Palin, then 16 years old, in 2006.

MARC LESTER / ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS / MCT

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The announcement Monday by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her husband that their 17-year-old daughter is pregnant out of wedlock raised new questions about how thoroughly John McCain investigated the background of his vice-presidential pick.

Whether the 72-year-old McCain's selection of 44-year-old Palin as his running mate was carefully considered or impulsive is a matter of growing interest.

Although the Palins made their announcement in response to Internet rumors, McCain advisers said that he knew about the pregnancy before he settled on Palin, and said that Palin had been thoroughly vetted. In Alaska, however, there's little evidence of a thorough vetting process.

While it's possible that some people in Alaska were called during the process, there was no sign of it. The former U.S. attorney for Alaska, Wev Shea, who enthusiastically recommended Palin back in March, said he was never contacted with any follow-up questions.

Chris Coleman, one of Palin's next-door neighbors, said that no one representing McCain spoke to him about Palin. Another neighbor also was never contacted, he said Monday.

Republican Gail Phillips, a former speaker of the Alaska House, said that she was shocked by McCain's selection of Palin and told her husband, Walt, "This can't be happening because his advance team didn't come to Alaska to check her out." She said she would've heard had someone been poking around.

"We're not a very big state," Phillips said. "People I talk to would've heard something."

Walt Monegan, the commissioner of public safety whom Palin fired in July, said that no one from the McCain campaign contacted him, either. His firing is now the subject of a special legislative investigation into whether Palin or members of her administration improperly interfered with the running of his department by pushing for dismissal of a state trooper involved in a divorce and custody battle with Palin's sister.

The FBI declined to say whether it conducted a full-field investigation of Palin's background before McCain tapped her as his running mate. FBI spokesman Richard Kolko referred callers to the McCain campaign.

Previous vice-presidential picks — even those with long records in national politics — have come under much closer scrutiny. In 2000, Democratic nominee Al Gore picked Joe Lieberman after a vetting process that lasted about 10 months, including poring through some 800 legal opinions Lieberman had been involved with as Connecticut Attorney General.

Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, was asked Monday as he walked through the Xcel Center in St. Paul if he was satisfied with Palin's vetting. "I'm not gonna get into that," he said.

As their national convention got under way Monday, Republicans stood by Palin and tried to make the media coverage, rather than McCain's decision-making, the issue.

"We're asking the media to respect a person's privacy," said Maria Comella, Palin's campaign spokesman.

A McCain adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, called the Palin pregnancy a family matter "best left to them."

McCain's Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, said the reports about her daughter's pregnancy have no relevance to the Alaska governor's potential performance as vice president.

"You know my mother had me when she was 18," Obama said. "And how family deals with issues and teenage children that shouldn't be the topic of our politics, and I hope that anybody who is supporting me understands that is off-limits."

Delegates to the Republican convention said the pregnancy should have no impact on the McCain campaign. Tom Azinger, a delegate from West Virginia, said it "will backfire" on anyone who makes it an issue. Ralph Seekins, an Alaska delegate, said families would identify with the challenges the Palins face.

"I'm proud of their daughter having to do the right thing. A lot of people would just say 'get rid of that problem,'" Seekins said. "My family's not perfect. I don't know anybody's that is. I've not even been perfect in my own life. I think people are going to understand that, even from a political standpoint."

However, Sherry Whistine, a Republican conservative blogger from Palin's home area of Wasilla, said that she can't believe how Palin could accept the nomination knowing that doing so would shine a spotlight on her daughter.

"What kind of woman, knowing all of this, knowing this is happening, would put her children in the position where the whole world, the whole nation, is going to see the uglies?" she said.

(Cockerham reports for the Anchorage Daily News. Anchorage Daily News reporters Richard Mauer and Zaz Hollander in Anchorage, David Lightman, Steven Thomma and McClatchy intern Shawn Boonstra contributed to this article from St. Paul.)

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