Campaign keeps Palin under wraps, sticking to script

SPARSE: People are warming to governor as she hits the trail.

September 17, 2008 

DAYTON, Ohio -- Asked about her refusal to turn over e-mails to an Alaska investigator, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin looked up, smiled -- and then stepped wordlessly into her waiting car.

Four days after leaving Alaska for her first solo campaign trip, Palin's hallmark is a disciplined adherence to a sparse public schedule. Appearances are few, interviews with the news media fewer still, and unscripted moments nonexistent.

She is frequently feisty in front of an audience, including Monday evening when she drew cheers as she laid into "far-East Coast politicians" who don't understand the need for control of coyotes or other predators. Or when her introduction of husband Todd as "first dude" evoked a few wolf whistles at a fundraiser.

But by the campaign's design, the self-described pitbull with lipstick, a history-making vice presidential candidate who has helped reshape the race for the White House, doesn't freelance.

"The American people are going to get to know Gov. Palin very well by the end of the campaign," says Steve Schmidt, the top strategist for presidential candidate John McCain. In coming days, he said, there will be more interviews, and Palin will join McCain for their first town hall-style appearance.

At the same time, she also must prepare for a nationally televised debate in October with her Democratic counterpart, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.

"The campaign is not being run for the benefit of the press," says Rich Galen, a Republican strategist with extensive political experience. "The campaign is being run for the benefit of the campaign, and when everything is going well, then there is no need to change from what has been working."

Polls nationally and in several key states show a swing toward McCain since she was added to the ticket, as conservatives warm to a politician they have long viewed warily. She is the first woman running mate on a Republican ticket in history, making her a draw for female voters. The organizers of a fundraiser in Ohio where she spoke on Monday said the event raised nearly $1 million.

But even some of those who come to hear her speak temper their enthusiasm.

"She might not have the experience but a lot of people don't have experience when they take a job," said Candy Cartaya, a Cuban-American and retired accountant.

Loyal Merrick, a 32-year-old Denverite with his toddler daughter perched on his shoulders, said he has long admired McCain. "I think she's the style to his substance," he says. "She has about as much experience as (Barack) Obama does, so if you want to compare our No. 2 to their No. 1 I'm fine with that."

The governor faces an investigation into abuse-of-power allegations in connection with the firing of a state official, and her husband has been subpoenaed to testify.

Her views on numerous issues remain unknown. Her interview with ABC drew notice when she speculated about a possible war with Russia, and when she seemed to agree with Democratic presidential nominee Obama that U.S. troops should be permitted to cross into Pakistan to track terrorists.

Yet ironically, McCain himself was responsible for one of the ticket's most obvious public stumbles in recent days as he tried to take advantage of Palin's presence on his ticket.

Last week, he erroneously claimed she had never sought federal earmarks as governor, an assertion neither he nor his campaign disavowed. Asked about the issue on Monday, he said Obama had sought more earmarks than Palin. "The important thing is she's vetoed a half a billion dollars in earmark projects -- far, far in excess of her predecessor and she's given money back to the taxpayers and she's cut their taxes, so I'm happy with her record," he said.

It's the type of questioning that the campaign has severely limited for Palin.

Aides keep reporters well away from her when she is campaigning, and protect her privacy aboard her chartered campaign plane by pulling a curtain across the center aisle to separate the Palins and her top aides from the rest of the passengers.

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