The McCain campaign is speaking for the Alaska state government these days, especially when it wants to ensure that nothing embarrassing about Gov. Sarah Palin emerges before Election Day.
Questions for the Palin administration are most often answered by McCain staffers, including Meghan Stapleton, a former Palin spokeswoman; Taylor Griffin, who worked for President Bush’s campaigns in 2000 and 2004; and Ed O’Callaghan, a McCain campaign lawyer and former federal prosecutor from New York.
They have clamped down on information flowing out of state government, especially when it comes to the so-called Troopergate investigation. The inquiry centers on whether Palin abused her power by firing the public safety commissioner after he refused to fire her ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper. The McCain group even attached a "truth squad" moniker to Troopergate news conferences this week.
The presidential race has kept Palin out of Alaska for all but three days since Sen. John McCain announced on Aug. 29 that he had chosen her as his running mate. This week, Palin was in New York for her first-ever meetings with world leaders, a trip to the World Trade Center site and an interview with CBS’ Katie Couric.
Even Palin’s lieutenant governor, Sean Parnell, said keeping in touch has been difficult. And since hackers broke into Palin’s Yahoo e-mail account last week, he said, it has dropped off entirely.
"Until she was hacked, we were communicating just about daily. Now I’m talking with her chief of staff," Parnell said. "I saw her in person when she came home about a week ago, but I haven’t spoken to her since."
In Palin’s absence, messages left with the governor’s office are usually returned by the McCain campaign. A recent request for information was answered by a governor’s spokesman with a sad smile and a shake of the head.
Even a message left on the cell phone of a hometown friend of Palin was returned by a McCain campaign staffer. The friend agreed to be interviewed by a reporter only after she was reassured the campaign had given its approval.
Such actions, not unusual when a governor runs for national office, have prompted questions in close-knit Alaska about whether Palin has abdicated too much of her role. The Anchorage Daily News asked in an editorial, "Is it too much to ask that Alaska’s governor speak for herself, directly to Alaskans, about her actions as Alaska’s governor?"
"I think that with the Troopergate thing kind of unfolding the way it is, it would seem to make more sense for her to be around, at least be available," said Graham Smith, a 28-year-old employee for an oil and gas industry trade group who was drinking coffee outside an Anchorage cafe. "She might be paying attention, she might not. Nobody really knows because she’s off doing her campaign thing."
Palin spokesman Bill McAllister, who largely vanished from the public eye the first half of September, emerged this week and denied that Palin had disengaged.
"The fact of the matter is the McCain campaign is not running state government. We want to talk to the press but we want to do so in a way that separates state government from national politics," he said. "We’re going to try to walk a fine line."
John W. Katz, special counsel to Palin, said the governor has made it clear "that she is in charge, she’s in touch and all the gubernatorial decisions are going past her." Aides cited the appointment of a new state public safety commissioner, which she approved during her three-day visit back to Alaska earlier this month.
McAllister said no major policy decisions are pending, her staff is compiling next year’s budget requests and she is in daily communication by phone and e-mail with her chief of staff.
Parnell, meanwhile, said he has taken over giving many of Palin’s speeches and has taken a more active interest in Alaska’s budget and the governor’s legislative agenda.
"I’m speaking several more times a week — like, for instance, I’m about to go meet the president of Iceland," Parnell said.
Associated Press writers Garance Burke and Martha Mendoza and contributed to this report.