Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Under-fire Palin preps for key debate
by Sebastian Smith
NEW YORK (AFP) - Sarah Palin spent Tuesday in Republican "boot camp" cramming for this week's vice presidential debate amid mounting concern over whether she is ready for a White House post and calls for her to quit the ticket.
The first-term governor of Alaska will face off in St Louis, Missouri, on Thursday against the Democratic vice presidential pick, veteran Senator Joseph Biden, in their sole clash ahead of the November 4 election.
With some Republicans fearing a fiasco, the telegenic but inexperienced Palin is undergoing several days of intensive debate training at the Arizona ranch of presidential nominee John McCain.
In a time-honored tradition of the White House race, Biden was also spending time off the campaign trail preparing for the key debate.
What US media dub Palin's "boot camp" will continue right through Wednesday, with senior McCain aides and former White House operatives coaching her and cramming her with facts.
McCain, 72, also sought to help Palin navigate the media minefield, chaperoning her in a new CBS interview and indicating that Palin, 44, could emulate past presidents Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton.
In a joint appearance on CBS television on Monday, McCain and Palin aimed to reverse the damage done by earlier Palin interviews, widely lampooned by the popular US comedian Tina Fey on the Saturday Night Live television show.
Interviewed jointly by Katie Couric, who questioned Palin alone in the earlier sessions, McCain intervened during a difficult question about whether his running-mate had contradicted the party's platform on Pakistan.
Palin had been criticized for telling a voter at a rally that the United States should be free to launch raids inside Pakistan in search of insurgents, after McCain rebuked his Democratic opponent Barack Obama for saying the same thing, warning that it was wrong to give notice of such attacks.
But McCain blamed the controversy on what he called aggressive "gotcha" journalism and interrupted when Couric asked Palin if she was sorry for having created such a stir.
The Arizona senator pointed to other state governors who had had limited national exposure when launching their bids for the White House, yet went on to become heavyweight presidents.
"I remember that Ronald Reagan was a 'cowboy.' President Clinton was a governor of a very small state that had 'no experience'," McCain said.
Palin, a political unknown before she was picked by McCain on August 29 to be his running mate, has on the whole been kept shielded from the national media.
A devout Christian and mother-of-five who is fiercely anti-abortion and a paid-up member of the National Rifle Association, Palin electrified McCain's campaign after being plucked from the obscurity of the far north.
She became the poster girl of the Republican right at the party's convention in early September and stole Obama's thunder as the freshest face on the political landscape.
But in recent days she has faced widespread ridicule for the few interviews she has given, including for citing Alaska's proximity to Canada and Russia as giving her a solid grounding in foreign policy.
She was also unable to give a coherent answer on how to resolve the financial crisis, and her reply, almost unaltered, was mimicked by Fey in a clip that has gone viral on the Internet.
Democrats and much of the media have assailed not only Palin's alleged lack of readiness for White House duty, but McCain's lack of judgement in choosing her.
More worrying for McCain is that noted conservative figures are now joining the barrage of attacks.
Writing in the conservative National Review, columnist Kathleen Parker said Palin should step down.
"Palin's recent interviews with Charles Gibson (ABC News), Sean Hannity (Fox News) and now Katie Couric have all revealed an attractive, earnest, confident candidate. Who Is Clearly Out Of Her League," Parker wrote.
"As we've seen and heard more from John McCain's running mate, it is increasingly clear that Palin is a problem," she added.