McCain defends his campaign team

Republican Senator John McCain on Wednesday strongly defended the top advisers from his 2008 presidential campaign in the face of sharp criticism from his vice presidential running mate, Sarah Palin.

McCain, in a telephone interview with Reuters, singled out campaign manager Steve Schmidt and senior adviser Nicolle Wallace for praise after Palin blasted the pair in her memoir, “Going Rogue: An American Life.”

“There’s been a lot of dust flying around in the last few days and I just wanted to mention that I have the highest regard for Steve Schmidt and Nicolle Wallace and the rest of the team … and I appreciated all the hard work and everything they did to help the campaign,” he said.

“I think it’s just time to move on,” he said.

Palin did some settling of scores in her best-selling book by criticizing several McCain staffers, in particular Schmidt and Wallace for their handling of her during last year’s election campaign.

She accused Wallace of pushing her to do an interview with “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric that proved damaging to Palin.

Various former aides to McCain have said the charges amounted to exaggerations and fiction and that her comment that she was billed $50,000 for her own vetting as a vice presidential candidate was simply wrong.

McCain did not get into specific charges leveled by Palin but suggested any frictions were due to the pressures inherent in presidential campaigns. McCain lost the election to Democrat Barack Obama.

“Campaigns are high-pressure situations. The only more high-pressure situation that I’ve been in is combat and prison,” said McCain, a Navy flyer shot down during the Vietnam War and held prisoner for 5-1/2 years.

“But you know, I’m proud of Nicolle and Steve and (senior campaign official) Rick Davis and (senior adviser) Mark Salter and I’ll always have great affection for them,” he said.

McCain, who has largely kept silent in the high-profile run-up to Palin’s book release and tour, said he remained proud of Palin, whom he plucked from obscurity as governor of Alaska last year to join him in his campaign.

“I’m still really proud of her and the campaign she ran and I think it’s pretty obvious that she has a substantial base and interest out there,” McCain said.

He said the interest in Palin, as manifested by the 1,500 people who showed up early at a bookstore in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for her first tour event, showed “the strength of the base” of the Republican Party.

McCain said he did not have the luxury of time to dwell on the campaign, citing the need to work on such issues as the weak economy in his home state of Arizona, healthcare legislation and the war in Afghanistan.