ST. PAUL, MINN. — John McCain's campaign on Wednesday angrily called for an end to questions about its review of Sarah Palin's background, deriding a "faux media scandal designed to destroy the first female Republican nominee" for vice president.
"This nonsense is over," declared senior campaign adviser Steve Schmidt in a written statement.
The statement stood out for its admission that Palin is under siege - it condemns "this vetting controversy" - and for its attempt to blunt questions about how rigorously McCain and his campaign explored the background of a candidate who may get the nation's second most powerful job. It also suggested that Palin is a victim of gender bias in the media.
"The McCain campaign will have no further comment about our long and thorough process," Schmidt said, lashing out at "the old boys' network" that he says runs media organizations.
Top McCain advisers said they welcome and expect a review of Palin's mayoral and gubernatorial record but that the media has crossed that line with its inquiries.
"Certainly, her record deserves scrutiny, but I think we ought to look at her record," campaign manager Rick Davis told reporters on a conference call. He condemned "the salacious nature" of some news stories designed to "throw dirt at our candidate." He also lamented a "frenzied" mentality on Palin and urged the media to "dial it back."
Davis also called for the same level of scrutiny on Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
McCain's campaign also scheduled a news conference with leading Republican women to defend Palin's executive experience, and released a new campaign ad for key states, an indication that advisers are concerned that a flurry of criticism may be taking a toll on her image.
The ad quotes a Wall Street Journal editorial that says: "Governor Palin's credentials as an agent of reform exceed Barack Obama's and that she has 'earned a reputation as a reformer' and 'has a record of bipartisan reform.'" Conversely, the ad says, Obama offers only "empty words."
McCain shook up the presidential race last Friday by picking Palin, a little-known governor serving her first term in Alaska. Since then, the self-styled "hockey mom" with a record of bucking the state's political establishment has had a bright spotlight trained on her private and public life.
First, she announced that her unmarried 17-year-old daughter, Bristol Palin, was pregnant. Among the other revelations:
- A private attorney is authorized to spend $95,000 of state money to defend her against accusations of abuse of power.
- Palin sought pork-barrel projects for her city and state, contrary to her reformist image.
- Her husband once belonged to a fringe political group in Alaska, with some members supporting secession from the United States.
- She has acknowledged smoking marijuana in the past.
None of the revelations seen to have shaken McCain's confidence or undermined her support among GOP delegates.
After four days of intense scrutiny, Palin gets a chance to respond with a televised speech at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday. In addition to accepting the nomination, the first woman to do so for the GOP, Palin will tell her story: small-town mayor with a taste for mooseburgers; the wife of a blue-collar North Slope oil worker; and the mother of five, including one born this spring with Down syndrome.
Said Tucker Eskew, a senior McCain adviser: "She will speak as a governor, a former mayor and someone with both hands on the steering wheel of America's energy economy. She will detail her record of shaking up the status quo in Alaska and standing up to entrenched interests to put the government back on the side of the people."
Defending his choice and the team that helped pick her, McCain said Tuesday that "the vetting process was completely thorough." Advisers said Palin went through a rigorous process that included a three-hour interview and a survey with some 70 questions, including: Have you ever paid for sex? Have you been faithful in your marriage? Have you ever used or purchased drugs? Have you ever downloaded pornography?
McCain's aides rejected suggestions from Democrats that her selection was a hurried, last-minute attempt to shake up the campaign and wrest female voters from Obama. They insisted Palin was a strong contender from the start.
But one senior Republican familiar with the search, who requested anonymity because McCain did not authorize the conversation, said Palin had virtually fallen from the radar. Only late in the summer, when McCain asked for more alternatives, was she made a finalist.
As conservatives closed ranks behind their like-minded foe of abortion, Schmidt accused the media of essentially being sexist.
"This vetting controversy is a faux media scandal designed to destroy the first female Republican nominee for vice president of the United States who has never been a part of the old boys' network that has come to dominate the news establishment of this country," his statement said.
When she was introduced as McCain's running mate last week, Palin portrayed herself as a political maverick in McCain's mold: "I've stood up to the old politics as usual, to the special interests, to the lobbyists, the big oil companies and the good old boy network," she said.
But Alaska's first female governor has at times benefited from Alaska's entrenched political system.
For one thing, Palin accepted at least $4,500 in campaign contributions in the same fundraising scheme at the center of a public corruption scandal that led to the indictment of Sen. Ted Stevens.
The contributions, made during Palin's failed 2002 bid to become Alaska's lieutenant governor, were not illegal for her to accept. But they show how Palin, who has bucked Stevens and his allies, is nonetheless linked with Alaska's old guard.