Republicans rally behind Sarah Palin ahead of her convention address
Friday, 05 September 2008

John McCain's aides dismiss revelations about Alaskan governor's past and insist she was right choice for running mate

Agencies

The Republicans will today attempt to rally behind John McCain's controversial choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate for November's presidential election amid a stream of embarrassing disclosures about her past.

Ahead of her prime-time speech to the Republican convention tonight, it emerged that Sarah Palin once supported a party that wants her home state of Alaska to break away from the United States.
 
McCain's selection of a woman was hailed a smart move when he announced it on Friday. But since then each day has brought fresh details of her life and politics, supporting the view that McCain made an impulsive choice and his campaign team either failed to thoroughly vet her or did not have enough time to do so.
 
The revelation that Palin appeared to support the secessionist Alaskan Independence party (AIP) - whose motto is "Alaska First" - sits awkwardly with McCain's campaign slogan, "Country First", and will be controversial in a country whose oath of allegiance includes the phrase "one nation, indivisible".
 
It emerged Palin tried to ban certain books from a public library, an awkward disclosure in a country that enshrines free speech in the first amendment to its constitution.
The AIP believes the 1958 vote that led to Alaska joining the American union was corrupt. It wants a rerun, with the aim of eventual independence. Party officials said yesterday Palin had attended at least one convention before leaving in 1996 to join the Republicans. But the party's chairwoman, Lynette Clarke, said today she had been mistaken when she claimed Palin had been an AIP member. The McCain camp yesterday insisted she had been a registered Republican since 1982.
 
A video of Palin's address this year to the independence party's convention while Alaska's Republican governor surfaced yesterday on YouTube. A smiling and gracious Palin wished the delegates a successful meeting, ending with the words "God bless you."
 
The first story to raise doubts about Palin was over a state probe into allegations that she abused her position as governor to try to sack her brother-in-law, a state trooper, after he divorced her sister. The same day the McCain campaign team put out a statement saying that Palin's 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, was five months pregnant. The father was later named in media reports as Levi Johnston, 18. The campaign team said it had gone public to end rumours that Palin's most recent child was in fact Bristol's.
 
In a MySpace entry, which has now been blocked, Johnston describes himself a "fuckin' redneck" and says he is in a relationship but "doesn't want kids". He has left Alaska to join Palin's family at the Republican party conference in St Paul, Minnesota, where she is due to make a speech tonight.
 
It emerged that Palin's husband, Todd, who is of Inuit descent and prides himself on being a champion snowmobile racer, was arrested 20 years ago for suspected drink-driving.
 
Journalists descended on Alaska on Saturday and uncovered further details. According to Time magazine, as mayor of the small town of St George, Palin tried to ban certain books from a local library and threatened to sack a librarian who opposed this.
 
And, contrary to Palin's claim that she had opposed the Bridge to Nowhere, the Alaskan bridge that cost millions but only links to a small community and is cited by McCain as a symbol of wastefulness, it was revealed she had initially supported it.
 
Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that far from being a cost-cutter, she hired a lobbyist while mayor of her hometown, Wasilla, to secure $27m funding for a population of 9,000, the kind of spending McCain has vowed to veto.
 
The paper later reported that Palin had a stake in an ailing car washing business that she failed to fully declare as governor.
 
Just as McCain aides were beginning to hope the worst was over, an interview surfaced from earlier this year in which Palin was heard laughing after a talk show host referred to one of her Republican colleagues as a "bitch" and "cancer" in the state of Alaska.
 
McCain, in Philadelphia yesterday, insisted "the vetting was thorough".

Republican aides were adamant that all the details that emerged had been known to them. Tucker Eskew, an adviser to Palin, gave the impression the disclosures were a deliberate strategy. "We are going to flush the toilet," he said. But there was plenty of evidence to suggest it was not deliberate and instead reflected a failure on the part of McCain's campaign to interview her at length.
 
A team of 10 staffers were dispatched to Alaska on Thursday, but Nicole Wallace, a spokeswoman for McCain, insisted they had been sent not to conduct a more thorough vetting but simply to help with the sudden influx of reporters.
 
McCain may have chosen Palin, whom he had only met twice, because he wanted a woman on his ticket rather than two elderly men, as would have been the case if he had chosen Joe Lieberman. There are reports McCain had planned to pick Lieberman but would have had a hard time persuading the convention given Lieberman's pro-choice stance on abortion.
 
Palin, 44, is popular with convention delegates. She has the support of the convention. Christian evangelicals, the gun lobby and anti-abortionists have swung behind her.
 
A member of the Texas delegation, Christopher Harvey, 28, said: "As a Texan we believe in gun rights, the Bible, and against abortion and against gay marriage. The things we believe in, she believes in."
 
Views such as this almost guarantee her a standing ovation when she delivers a prime-time speech at the convention in St Paul, Minnesota. Rick Davis, a senior McCain adviser, said her speech would provide her with a chance "to tell her story".

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