With Sarah Palin facing unrelenting press scrutiny and enjoying off-the-charts excitement from voters, John McCain’s campaign is quickly moving to augment her staff and put in place an infrastructure that can address the unexpected wave of interest.
This team of aides and advisers is tasked with preparing Palin for media appearances, including her first on ABC later this week, her debate against Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden early next month, pushing back against near-daily accusations from liberal activists as well as inquiries from mainstream journalists. In general, they are offering the sort of support provided to any vice presidential pick.
Since McCain made his pick in the final days before announcing it to the public — and since many aides were not told until the night before or morning of the rollout — the campaign has been forced to hire and hastily put in place a cadre of staff to deal with the unprecedented onslaught of questions from reporters, requests from Republicans and viral Internet attacks from the left.
This team of aides and advisers brings years of experience in Republican politics, and includes many who worked for President Bush in the White House and on his two campaigns.
Some have been dispatched to Alaska to handle issues on the ground there relating to Palin’s background as mayor of Wasilla and governor, while others will join her on the road or work on her behalf from the McCain campaign’s headquarters in Virginia.
Their first priority: getting Palin ready for her first network interview since becoming John McCain’s running mate.
Newly hired aides are briefing her on likely questions and topics when ABC’s Charlie Gibson sits down with her later this week in Alaska.
The intensive prep session includes staffers going through footage of previous interviews by the "World News Tonight "anchor, according to an aide.
McCain aides declined to say whether they’re readying Palin by asking mock questions.
“We’re preparing her for the interview as you would prepare any principal,” said this aide, noting that Palin prefers concise briefing material and topics addressed on notecards and in bulleted fashion.
“She has clearly given a lot of thought to a wide range of issues,” added the aide. “She has engaged everybody who has briefed her.”
Numerous McCain aides are involved in the preparation, and staffers stressed that all under the McCain-Palin umbrella were operating as one unit.
Traveling with her and working with the press are Tracey Schmitt and Tucker Eskew. Each is taking a leave from private sector public relations-related jobs to work the final stretch.
Schmitt worked on both Bush campaigns and ran the Republican National Committee communications shop before leaving a year ago to work for a biopharma company. Eskew is a longtime GOP strategist who was a top aide in the first Bush campaign and later worked in the White House before co-founding his own public affairs firm.
They’ll be joined at times by Nicolle Wallace, the former White House communications director who has served as a senior adviser to the McCain campaign since spring. Mark Wallace, Nicolle Wallace’s husband and another veteran of Bushworld, will lend a hand to Palin by prepping her for the lone debate against Biden, Oct. 2 in St. Louis.
Offering policy counsel will be Steve Biegun, a seasoned foreign policy specialist who did stints as a senior member of Bush’s National Security Council and as national security adviser to former Sen. Bill Frist, when he was Senate majority leader. He’s taken a leave from his position as a government affairs executive at Ford Motor Co.
Also helping on the policy front is Joe Donoghue, a longtime McCain aide who has worked for years in the Arizonan’s Senate office. He’ll travel with Palin and erve as a liaison to the campaign headquarters on issues.
Joining the road show is a loyalist from Palin’s inner circle, Kris Perry. Also a native of Wasilla, Perry managed Palin’s gubernatorial campaign and is her closest aide. With her familiarity of her boss’ record and background, she’ll help answer questions that arise about Alaska.
Back at the campaign’s Arlington, Va., headquarters, Maria Comella will work with reporters. She worked for Bush’s reelection campaign in 2004 and was a top spokeswoman in Rudy Giuliani’s primary effort. Another Bush veteran and press aide, Ben Porritt, is largely focused on going after Biden, but will also assist the Palin effort.
Also detailed to the mothership will be a trio of staffers tasked specifically with responding to the sort of viral attacks that have been popping up about Palin’s background and record in Alaska.
These aides include Mark Paoletta and Edward O’Callaghan, both Republican lawyers, and Brian Jones, a former top RNC aide who served as McCain’s communications director until a campaign shake-up last summer.
The public face for this pushback, though, will be woman Republican politicians, a “truth squad” team designed to highlight attacks on Palin and draw sympathy to her side.
Then there is the campaign’s Last Frontier satellite: Taylor Griffin, another Bush administration veteran who had been focusing on doing press on economic issues, has been detailed to Alaska to oversee the campaign’s operation there as reporters from across the world descend on Anchorage, Juneau and Wasilla to probe a political figure who is turning out to be anything but an ordinary vice presidential nominee.