By Philip Sherwell in New York
Sarah Palin is being briefed for her own television debate this week by a team of hard-nosed operatives who helped take George W Bush from the Texas governor's mansion to the White House. The Alaska governor picked by Mr McCain as his White House running mate has been assigned a group of senior aides and advisers whose background is at odds with her carefully honed image as a maverick anti-Washington reformer.
The appointment of Mr Eskew as Mrs Palin's chief handler raised the most eyebrows. For as Mr Bush's top advisor in South Carolina in 2000, he was closely associated with what Mr McCain viewed as a vicious smear campaign that derailed his previous run for his party's nomination.
"They've unleashed the dogs of war," Mr McCain said at one stage then after emails and fliers circulated claiming he had fathered an illegitimate black daughter. But the Republican candidate has made his political peace with his party foes and their confrontational tactics, even as he seeks to distance himself from their old boss.
Mark McKinnon, Mr Bush's former advertising guru who advised Mr McCain during the latest primary campaign, rejected criticisms that the new hiring policy was a sell-out.
"There aren't a lot of experienced, skilled political operatives around who can work at the presidential level," he told The Sunday Telegraph.
"And of those that are available on the Republican side, almost all of them worked for George Bush. It would be very hard to put together a presidential team on the Republican side without hiring former Bush hands."
As The Sunday Telegraph has reported previously, prominent neoconservative thinkers are seeking to shape the foreign policy views of Mrs Palin, whom they regarded as largely a "blank page" on international affairs.
In recent weeks, the main role of the Palin team has often seemed to be to protect her from the unwanted attention of the media as she has drawn huge crowds to campaign rallies but only granted extremely limited press access.
She has given just three set-piece television interviews and they have caused even some Republican cheerleaders alarm.
After she stumbled over a series of answers to Katie Couric on CBS on Thursday night, Kathleen Parker in the National Review, a prominent conservative magazine, urged her to quit to spend more time with her newborn, saying Mrs Palin was "clearly out of her league".
Her aides will now have their work cut out before Thursday when she will face the full glare of publicity in St Louis, Missouri, as she confronts Mr Biden in the only televised debate between the vice-presidential candidates.
Mr Wallace, a lawyer who played a key role working for the Bush legal team in the decisive Florida recount in 2000 before helping run the 2004 re-election campaign and then being appointed to the UN, is leading the team prepping her for that showdown.
Mrs Palin is also receiving advice on delivering her message from Mr Wallace's wife Nicolle, a former White House communications director, while Steve Biegun, a long-time member of Mr Bush's National Security Council, has been briefing her on foreign policy.
Sunday, September 28, 2008