Monday, September 29, 2008

The Great Palin Panic Of 2008

29 Sep 2008 11:59 am

Gov. Sarah Palin has lost control of her public image, several top-level McCain advisers said this weekend, and even a baseline performance in Thursday's debate with Joe Biden may be too late to recover it.

The decision to sequester Palin from the national political press corps was made with the assumption that the afterglow from her convention speech would last; a month later, even some Republicans are beginning to have a less favorable opinion of her.

Her knowledge of policy has seemed at times no more than inch deep, and even admirers have complained that her penchant for returning to talking points sounds artificial. Several times the campaign has had to clean up her remarks for her, such as on Saturday, when she hinted at a view of U.S.-Pakistani relations that was closer to Barack Obama's.

Aides questioned why CBS's Katie Couric was given a second interview with Palin after Palin's responses were ridiculed.

One McCain aide complained that too few surrogates are making the affirmative case for her -- she has defenders, to be sure, but they're sparse and they're generally defending her from specific charges. Aside from a single interview with Sean Hannity, she hasn't appeared on a single talk radio show, hasn't held a single conference call with conservative activists, nor she has participated in a telephone call with conservative bloggers. In turn, these conservatives have largely stopped rallying to her defense.

Internally and to surrogates, senior campaign aides have counseled a "criticize the media" approach, but it has fallen on deaf ears.

A major worry is that if Palin fails to meet expectations Thursday, she'll have no trampoline to fall back on.

Sunday, the campaign sent out a draft version of Palin's schedule that had her prepping for the debate in St. Louis. Campaign sources say that Sen. McCain himself called an audible and suggested that Palin spend her debate prep time in Sedona and bring her family, allowing her to escape some of the intense pressure of the campaign trail.

According to the Wall Street Journal, campaign manager Rick Davis and chief strategist Steve Schmidt, along with McCain aide Brett O'Donnell will take over debate prep duties from Mark Wallace, a former Bush campaign official and United Nations diplomat.

Jill Hazelbaker, McCain's chief spokesperson, denied any internal concern. "Governor Palin is a huge asset to our ticket and she's going to do just fine this week." Referring to a Palin public appearance in Central Florida, she said, "60,000 people in FL last week is a pretty good indicator that she's connecting."

Instead of unsheathing Palin, the strategy this week is to attack Joe Biden and try to drive a wedge between him and Obama, another McCain aide said.

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