Republican presidential candidate John McCain says he knew, before offering Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin the job as his running mate, that her 17-year-old daughter was pregnant. Nonetheless, the revelation is spurring questions about the vetting process and just how well McCain knows Palin.
"We really have just been introduced to her in the last few days, and the McCain campaign has not had an opportunity to talk to a lot of people in Alaska about her to get, if you will, the full 360 on Sarah Palin," NPR's Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving tells host Madeleine Brand.
"It's very difficult to do this kind of vetting process quickly," Elving adds, "and it does appear as though it were not necessarily a terribly long vetting process."
The campaign has said that Palin submitted to a three-hour interview and answered a questionnaire that consisted of 70 questions. Given that neither the transcript nor the questionnaire has been made public, it's impossible to know what sort of questions might not have been asked or answered.
Some have said that McCain was leaning toward Tom Ridge or Joe Lieberman as running mates — not Palin — but that his advisers pushed him away from them because they are pro-choice.
"He had been clearly contradicted on this by some of the elements of his campaign," Elving says, "And people telling him ... 'If you pick someone who is pro-choice, you will lose the enthusiasm of the convention, because so many of the people here at the convention are very strong social conservatives and ... you will lose their enthusiastic participation this fall in the November vote.' "
Initial portraits of Palin, after McCain's announcement, painted her as a sort of maverick. Digging further into her biography has shown, however, that she was not always such a reformer. Though she now declares herself staunchly opposed to federal earmarks and what is known as the "Bridge to Nowhere," Ketchikan's Gravina Island bridge, that wasn't always the case.
"I think there has been a turnaround in the career of Sarah Palin, and I think it's quite an understandable one," Elving says. "When she first was going from the city level [of Wasilla] to the state level and dealing with the power structure in Alaska, she dealt with Sen. Ted Stevens and Congressman Don Young, and they did things for her that helped her get a lot of money spent in her town."
When she won the Republican nomination for governor, however, her political pathway changed rather radically, he adds.
It was then that she became the sort of reformer that McCain would be attracted to, Elving says, "a kind of earmark buster, even though she had been a great beneficiary of earmarks up until that point."
Elving does not see this as signifying any sort of falseness so much as "that she was in one kind of mode when she was mayor, and in another mode when she moved to the state level and then the national level."