The John McCain camp confirmed yesterday they had sent a "jump team" of lawyers and media communications experts to Alaska to handle the burst of potentially damaging publicity surrounding vice presidential pick Sarah Palin and her pregnant daughter, Bristol.
The dispatch of the operatives to Anchorage and also Wasilla where Mrs Palin was mayor and has a home left the impression of a campaign engaging in rapid damage control. It also gave rise to speculation that they were there to complete a vetting process that was not done properly in the face place.
Senator McCain, who will travel to St Paul, Minnesota, tomorrow to accept his nomination, denied yesterday that the normally exhaustive checking of Mrs Palin had been faulty. "The vetting process was complete and thorough and I am grateful for the results," he said in Philadelphia. Aides had said earlier that he had known about the pregnancy of 17-year-old Bristol before offering the job to Mrs Palin.
Republican loyalists will rise to their feet as one this evening at their convention to welcome Mrs Palin, the Governor of Alaska, as she takes to the polished black stage in the Xcel Energy Center to accept the nomination and give her first major address on a national – if not international – stage.
After a somewhat toned-down start on Monday, because of Hurricane Gustav on the Gulf Coast, the Republicans got back on track yesterday and expect to reach a first emotional climax this evening with Mrs Palin's address. The adulation, however, will mask anxiety that recent revelations about her private life and an ongoing ethics investigation could make Mrs Palin into a liability instead of an asset.
Convention planners intend that the acceptance speech by Mr McCain tomorrow, balloon drop and all, should be the high mark – though it will hardly match Barack Obama's oration in the Mile High Stadium last week. Yet, it will have to compete with what happens tonight as Mrs Palin takes the stage.
The stakes for the 44-year-old mother of five and former beauty queen will be high indeed. She knows that the jury remains out on whether by selecting her as his number two Mr McCain has performed a brilliant electoral trick or committed something close to political harikiri. Karl Rove, the former political advisor to George Bush, said publicly yesterday that Mr McCain chose her with an eye to getting rather than to governing with her.
To this point at least, the excitement felt by conservative Republicans seems to be outweighing any private dismay at the morsels about Mrs Palin's family life that have been leaking out faster than episodes in a soap opera. The biggest of them all, of course, being the revelation that Bristol is with child and that the young father, Levi, has a mouth grubbier than politics itself.
"It's either brilliant or insane," said the seasoned observer Charlie Cook, noting that media reports were wavering between two narratives on the Governor. "It will either be the fascinating, offbeat, not-off-the-rack maverick ... or that her selection was a half-baked, cynical move by McCain that, while 'outside the box', probably should have been left in the box and never opened."
Barely an hour in St Paul passes without some new detail about Mrs Palin life rushing through the corridors. Among these yesterday were reports that high among her socially conservative positions has been a long-held disenchantment with offering sex education in public schools because abstinence is the better answer. Never mind that Bristol apparently never got that parental memo.
Aides are also bracing, meanwhile, for any additional collateral damage that could emerge from an ethics investigation of Mrs Palin that was ordered by a committee of the state legislature in July. She has been charged by her political foes of firing the state's former public safety commissioner because he did not sack a state trooper who is divorcing Mrs Palin's sister.
Barack Obama, meanwhile, urged supporters to steer clear of the private affairs of Governor. " I have said before and I will repeat again: I think people's families are off-limits. This shouldn't be part of our politics."