Election 2008

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Stephan Savoia/AP

As Palin’s Past Comes to Light, Campaign Vetting Process Gets a Closer Look

September 02, 2008 01:45 PM
by Christopher Coats
A series of reports regarding the background of John McCain’s pick for vice president has raised questions about the path the campaign took in selecting Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Vetted or Not?

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Vetting is traditionally an intensive and thorough process, made so by past mistakes on the part of presidential candidates, but reports in The New York Times and Anchorage Daily News suggest that the process may have been rushed or incomplete.

Although the McCain campaign has responded that they were aware of all the incidents in question prior to their selection of Palin, the vetting of the Alaska governor in the days leading up to the Aug. 29 announcement has become the center of attention during the Republican National Convention.

After Palin was announced as McCain’s running mate on Friday, reports emerged surrounding an investigation into allegations of pressuring a state official to fire her ex brother-in-law, Palin’s connection to a Alaska secessionist group, statements regarding the war in Iraq and a series of personal family issues.

Interviews with a number of residents, friends and colleagues of Palin suggested that few, if any of them, had ever been contacted by the McCain campaign to provide insight or opinions about the governor.

Former Alaska House Speaker, Republican Gail Phillips, remarked to the Anchorage Daily News that “We’re not a big state—People I talked to would’ve heard something.” Further, a Republican close to the campaign told The New York Times that McCain’s vice presidential team arrived in Alaska only a day before the selection was announced.

Responding to queries about Palin’s vetting process, the McCain campaign told the Associated Press that she had undergone not only a 70-question survey, including “intrusive” subjects, but also been the subject of an FBI background check.

“Nothing that has come out did not come out in the vet. She was fully vetted,” a senior McCain aide told The Washington Post.

Historical Context: Other VP choices with skeletons

Although McCain and his campaign have insisted that their investigation of Palin began long ago, it would hardly be the first time a vice presidential choice was rushed, or the first time potentially embarrassing or politically troubling issues have arisen after the fact.

In 1984, Walter Mondale’s choice of Geraldine Ferraro came quickly after a last-minute decision not to run alongside California’s Dianne Fienstein. The rushed process led Mondale’s team to miss a series of financial dealings on the part of Ferraro’s husband.

George McGovern’s pick of Thomas Eagleton in 1972 was followed by reports that he had undergone electro-shock treatment for depression—a revelation missed during a less-than-through vetting process.

“The history of the selection of modern-day vice presidential nominees is replete with missteps caused by haste or by presidential candidates’ being more consumed with political calculations than the prerequisites of the nation’s second-highest job,” wrote Marc Ambinder in the National Journal in June.

However, a more thorough investigation does not always lead to a successful running mate. In 2000, Al Gore’s campaign reportedly spent 10 months analyzing more than 800 legal opinions of Joe Lieberman before selecting, but ultimately found him to be a poor choice.

Opinion & Analysis: Effect on the McCain campaign

While it remains too early to see if any of the stories about Palin’s past will affect her popularity among voters, which initially saw an increase in fundraising and party excitement following the announcement, some have suggested that the revelations, especially those having to do with her family, may actually help her.

Charles Mahtesian argued that the reports could go a long way toward reinforcing “how remarkably unremarkable she is,” offering a familiar connection to voters across the nation.

However, blogger Josh Marshall points to the reports surrounding Palin and argues that they suggest a weakness not about the Alaska governor, but McCain. “Fundamentally, of course, this is about John McCain. And the real issue here is what this slapdash decision says about his judgment,” Marshall wrote on Monday.

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