Some questions remain on McCain's vetting of Palin

House Speaker Harris says he's not heard of any specific contacts

Posted: Sunday, September 07, 2008

ANCHORAGE - John McCain's presidential campaign did not speak with the Alaska House speaker and other leading Republicans before McCain tapped Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Seanna O'sullivan / The Associated Press
Seanna O'sullivan / The Associated Press

The low-profile vetting allowed McCain to spring Palin onto the national scene uncolored by media scrutiny. But it has left the campaign open to criticism that McCain did not fully explore her qualifications.

"I haven't heard of anybody being contacted, not that that's bad," said John Harris, speaker of the state House of Representatives. "I just haven't heard of anybody."

The subject is now closed, said McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds.

"Gov. Palin was fully vetted as previously described, and we are no longer commenting on the vetting process," Bounds said Friday. "She was selected, is qualified and is ready to serve."

Attorney Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr. led the review and told The Associated Press earlier this week that Palin underwent a "full and complete" examination.

But Harris, state Senate President Lyda Green and GOP chairman Randy Ruedrich said no one called them in advance to talk about the governor.

"I've not heard of one person who was talked to," said Green, who lives in Palin's hometown of Wasilla and has feuded with the governor.

Palin also has had a rocky relationship with Ruedrich, whom she tried to oust as party chairman.

It was the same story at one of Palin's previous elected offices. Mary Bixby, executive assistant to Wasilla Mayor Dianne Keller, said no one contacted the office for information about Palin before her selection. Since the announcement, the only attention had been from reporters.

"Nobody has been here," Bixby said.

Culvahouse said Palin's review, like others, began with two dozen people sifting through information from public sources: speeches, financial records, tax information, litigation, investigations, ethical charges, marriages and divorces.

For Palin, the team studied online archives of the state's largest newspapers, including the Anchorage Daily News.

Palin answered a personal data questionnaire with 70 "very intrusive" questions, Culvahouse said, and was asked to submit years of tax returns. Culvahouse conducted a lengthy interview.

"They obviously felt like they did enough research and were comfortable," Harris said.

Henry Brady, professor of political science and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, said Friday that campaigns should be more diligent about examining the record and background of lesser-known candidates than well-known ones.

"Any sensible due diligence would include not just looking at the public record, not just looking at the newspaper, but also talking to people," he said.

When Democrat Walter Mondale picked Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, she was not fully vetted, Brady said. Questions about her husband's financial holdings and tax returns became a central issue in that election, won in a landslide by Ronald Reagan.

Since the Palin announcement, snippets of potentially damaging information have dribbled out - Todd Palin's youthful intoxicated driving conviction, the pregnancy of the Palin's unmarried daughter, Palin's lack of international traveling, reality vs. hype on her effectiveness as a governor.

"The question is whether all these other little shortcomings are going to accumulate into a not-such-a-great picture," Brady said.

The process does, however, reflect on McCain's decision making. McCain wrapped up the GOP nomination in March, giving him plenty of time to investigate potential running mates.

"You've got months to make this decision," Brady said.

He called it astonishing that with so many unknowns about Palin, more was not done. Brady said he suspects McCain did not seriously consider Palin until just before he picked her.

Still, he said, "This is one where there was time to do it right."

In the end, it may not matter, Brady said.

"She's worked out pretty well," he said of Palin. "She gave a heck of a speech."

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