The McCain campaign has gone to great lengths to present the selection of Sarah Palin as one made after a careful, meticulous vetting process. But evidence continues to suggest that the Arizona Republican made his VP choice with surprising haste.
On Saturday, a Democrat tasked with opposition research contacted the Huffington Post with this piece of information: as of this weekend, the McCain campaign had not gone through old newspaper articles from the Valley Frontiersman, Palin's hometown newspaper.
How does he know? The paper's (massive) archives are not online. And when he went to research past content, he was told he was the first to inquire.
"No one else had requested access before," said the source. "It's unbelievable. We were the only people to do that, which means the McCain camp didn't."
The Frontiersman did not immediately confirm the revelation. And there is no indication from the Democratic source that anything nefarious or problematic will be found in the archives. But officials with the paper did not recall inquiries by the McCain campaign.
"I cannot confirm that information at this time," said publisher Kari Sleight. "I am not aware of the McCain campaign researching our archives, but archive requests do not usually go through me."
If true, the failure of the Arizona Republican to access the newspaper clippings becomes another in a growing list of revelations that calls into question just how and why he made his decision to choose Palin. A rudimentary clip search, such as this, is presidential politics 101 as campaigns not only look for the majority of background information on any high-level appointee, but also try to prepare themselves from future attacks.
It has been previously reported that the McCain campaign did not contact Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, who Palin pushed to have fired after he refused to remove her sister's former husband from the state's police force. That controversy, an investigation of which will be made public in late October, could cause major headaches for Palin in the days leading up to the election.
In addition, the former Republican House Speaker of Alaska, Gail Phillips, admitted to reporters that she was shocked by McCain's choice of Palin, as "his advance team didn't come to Alaska to check her out."
Even McCain's own aides seemed unprepared by the choice. After Palin's name was announced, spokeswoman Nancy Pfotenhauer was asked about the governor's relationship with the Senator.
"You're running flat into the wall of my ignorance here," she said. "I truly have no indication whatsoever the extent of a relationship that exists with the Governor of Alaska."
In light of these reports, the McCain camp has sought to dispel the notion that Palin was un-vetted or chosen out of purely political motives. Even though the presumptive Republican nominee met his now-running mate only once before choosing her, aides have begun arguing, the two are "kindred spirits" and have shared ideological bearings. In a Washington Post piece Sunday, Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, said the Palin chose was not a last minute call. The process, he added, was rigorous and involved sifting through financial and other personal data, as well as an FBI background check.
"Nobody was vetted less or more than anyone in the final stages, and John had access to all that information and made the decision," Davis said. "It's really not much more complicated than that."
UPDATE: Some readers have noted that the Frontiersman website includes a small archive of stories about Palin. However, as our original source informed us, and a second Democratic researcher with access to the same records confirms, there have been hundreds of stories on Palin by the Frontiersman dating back over 15 years, only a handful of which are posted online. More important to the story, the Democratic researchers, not the McCain campaign, were the first to request access to these archives.
LATE UPDATE: More evidence is emerging suggest a less-than-thorough vetting of Palin. Marc Ambinder reported on Monday that, contrary to prior claim, the McCain campaign did not conduct an FBI background check on the governor. Such a check would be against bureau policy. And as NBC's Andrea Mitchell reported, that Republican lawyers are just now (i.e. currently) doing a vet of Palin up in Alaska.
LATE LATE UPDATE: As a few commenters have noted, an incomplete archive of Frontiersman stories mentioning Palin is available on the web here. This database includes more than the "handful" of articles we mentioned above, and while we regret not posting a link to it earlier, it is far from comprehensive. Palin was elected to the Wasilla city council in 1992, and was mayor from 1996-2002. Yet the Frontiersman's web archive includes zero stories mentioning Palin from 1992-1997, just one article from 1998, three articles from 1999, six articles from 2000, and 13 from 2001. By 2002, the number of stories available online jumps to 51. The facts of our original story remain the same: despite presenting the selection of Sarah Palin "as one made after a careful, meticulous vetting process," the McCain campaign did not go through "old newspaper articles from the Valley Frontiersman," because "the paper's (massive) archives are not online." But it would have been more precise to say "not fully online." Moreover, as we reported, a reliable Democratic source claims to have been told he was the first to access the complete archives; neither the Frontiersman staff nor the McCain campaign have challenged this point.