Cindy McCain's half sister emerges to put down 'only child' claim

Cindy McCain, the wife of the Republican presidential candidate John McCain, describes herself as an only child. "I grew up with my dad, I'm an only child. My father was a cowboy, and he really loved me very much, but I think he wanted a son occasionally," she told a TV interviewer.

Now a half-sister has emerged from the shadows to challenge that family history, claiming she and her offspring have been carefully airbrushed out of the would-be First Lady's family picture. "I'm upset," Kathleen Hensley Portalski told National Public Radio in a recent interview.

Documents show that she was born to Jim and Mary Jeanne Hensley on 23 February 1943. The still-married Mr Hensley was sent to West Virginia to recuperate from war wounds. There he met Marguerite Smith whom he married in 1945, and Cindy was born nine years later.

Kathleen saw her father and her half-sister from time to time, as she was growing up. "I saw him at Christmas and birthdays, and he provided money for school clothes, and he called occasionally," Ms Hensley Portalski told NPR.

But when Mr Hensley died, it was to his second daughter Cindy – who by now was Mrs McCain and running the Hensley Corporation, a lucrative Arizona beer distributorship and strip mall developments – that he left his entire fortune. The will gave Kathleen just $10,000. Today, the Portalskis live in Phoenix in a modest house. They would have like to have inherited some of the Hensley fortune. Given that they are Democrats, they are unlikely to receive any handouts. Kathleen's son, Nicholas, says the reason the family has come forward was their anger at being erased from the family tree by Mrs McCain.

"The fact that we've never been recognised, and then Cindy has to put such a fine point on it by saying something that's not true," he told National Public Radio, which had broadcast a profile on Mrs McCain which proved to be the last straw for the forgotten family. "It's just very hurtful."

Kathleen wants an acknowledgment and an apology but, so far, Mrs McCain has not commented publicly.

The furore comes at a time when Mrs McCain is busy trying to shed her distant image. Despite being married for almost three decades to one of the country's most visible politicians, Cindy has tried to keep her personal life personal. A wealthy businesswoman in her own right, she refused to move to Washington with her husband, preferring to remain in Phoenix, Arizona rather than play the "Stepford Wife" role of many politicians' spouses.

With the Republican convention less than two weeks away, the 54-year-old is making all the wrong sort of headlines. Last week she was pictured with her right arm in a sling, after an over-zealous supporter shook her hand a bit too hard, aggravating an old injury. And now the snubbed half-sister has spoken out. And almost half of the American electorate say they still do not know enough to have an opinion about the putative Republican First Lady.

For rolling comment on the US election visit: independent.co.uk/campaign08

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