The Corner

Scenes From the Debate — Palin Prep

Greetings from St. Louis, site of tonight’s vice presidential debate.  The plane from Washington was filled with press, political types, campaign aides, etc., scattered everywhere.  The only rule seemed to be that television anchors sat in first class, while U.S. senators sat in coach.  “Now you know the true pecking order,” one senator told me — joking, kind of.

All the talk, of course, was about Sarah Palin.  Word is the prep sessions in Sedona have been going well, although I’m not sure what people would say if they were going badly.

But there’s no doubt there are concerns about Palin.  If you talk to people in Alaska, away from the McCain campaign or Washington Republican circles, there’s a feeling that the campaign has mishandled her. For my story on Palin’s time as governor, out tomorrow in the electronic version of NR, I talked to some people who have known her for quite a while.  Although we were talking about other things, one of them took a detour to the upcoming debate; what was said was just one person’s opinion, but it’s an opinion informed by a good bit of knowledge.  

“The McCain people have got her freaked out,” this person told me.  “She has not found her voice.  She has looked like hell in these interviews.  It’s not her.  I don’t know what’s going on.  I know she doesn’t have any Alaska people around her since Todd left New York last week.  No one from the governor’s office is with her.”

“They’ve circled the wagons around her and got her in a bubble,” the source continued.  “They’ve got her flipped out.  She’s afraid to talk, afraid to make a mistake.”

“You have to get her away from that damn cellphone and BlackBerry when you’re getting her ready for interviews and debates.  You have to create peace around her, get her to calm down and just breathe, for God’s sake….If she does that, she’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

“I think she’ll make a comeback with Biden, when she gets out there all alone.  But I’ve just never seen her so unsure of herself in a long time.”

Sending Palin to McCain’s ranch in Arizona, where some of her family was with her, was part of an effort to “create peace” around her.  Still, I think my Alaskan source’s observations raise the question of whether you want a candidate for vice president who can be rattled by Charles Gibson or Katie Couric.  But my sense is that Palin is pretty tough, and that if she has in fact been rattled, it’s been more a one-time response to her being plucked out of Alaska and put on the national stage so quickly.  It’s a huge change, but she’s adjusting.  In any event, if you’re looking for peace, the McCain campaign is not the first place that would come to mind.

By the way, word is that Randy Scheunemann, McCain’s top foreign-policy adviser, played Biden in Palin’s debate practice.  Perhaps that’s a good choice.  But you have to wonder whether a Republican senator who has listened to Biden blow hard for, say, the last 20 years, might not have a better feel for what he will say.  We’ll see.

Byron York is a former White House correspondent for National Review.

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