A flurry of personal and legal revelations battering Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin today raised new questions about John McCain's risky running mate pick. Mrs Palin rocked the first day of the Republican National Convention yesterday by announcing that her 17-year-old unmarried daughter was pregnant, but that she would have the baby and marry the father. It emerged Mrs Palin had hired a lawyer to defend herself in a legislative investigation into her alleged abuse of powers as Alaska governor and there were also reports that her husband Todd was arrested for drink driving more than 20 years ago.
Late yesterday, reports were also emerging that Mrs Palin had once been a member of the fringe Alaska Independence Party. The revelations forced Mr McCain's camp to defend its vice presidential vetting operation of Mrs Palin, who was largely unknown nationally before the Arizonan sent shock waves through the political world by naming her last week. Mr McCain's spokesman, Tucker Bounds, told CNN that the Arizona senator learnt about the pregnancy of Bristol Palin during the vetting process before he chose her.
"He did not consider it a disqualifier." Mr Bounds said. But questions about the thoroughness of the checks into Mrs Palin's background were amplified by reports that a team of 12 Republican lawyers was heading to Alaska to perform extra scrutiny on Mrs Palin. There was also fresh scrutiny into the so-called "trooper-gate" scandal in which Mrs Palin is accused of pressuring a police commissioner to fire a trooper who was divorced from her sister.
The governor has denied the allegations, describing them as "outrageous" and "false". The string of disclosures about Mrs Palin opened up the possibility that Democrats would further question her qualifications to serve as vice president, and the judgement of Mr McCain over her selection. Mrs Palin electrified the powerful Republican base of social conservatives when she was named on Friday, by virtue of her strong stance against abortion and same-sex marriage and pro-gun stance.
When her name was mentioned in the convention hall yesterday it drew loud cheers, and there were signs that her new power base of evangelical conservatives was standing up despite the new scrutiny. "Unfortunately, teenage pregnancy has become all too common in today's society regardless of a family's economic or social status," said Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council, an influential conservative group.
"It is problem that we remain committed to reducing through encouraging young people to practice abstinence," Mr Perkins said. "Fortunately, Bristol is following her mother and father's example of choosing life in the midst of a difficult situation. "We are committed to praying for Bristol and her husband-to-be and the entire Palin family as they walk through a very private matter in the eyes of the public," Mr Perkins added.
Mrs Palin's statement about her daughter came after liberal blogs buzzed with unsubstantiated rumours that Mrs Palin's daughter was the true mother of the governor's infant son. The McCain campaign condemned the reports but they appeared to be behind Mrs Palin's announcement about her daughter's pregnancy. The news came as media organisations were preoccupied with Hurricane Gustav, which forced the curtailment of the first day of the Republican convention.
But by late evening, as Gustav swept past New Orleans without causing major flooding, cable news channels had returned to the story, increasing pressure on Mrs Palin and the McCain campaign. Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, who earlier told reporters to "back off" stories about Mrs Palin's daughter, rejected Republican claims that Mrs Palin had as much experience as he did. Republicans have said that after serving as mayor of a small Alaskan town, and now as a first-term governor, Mrs Palin has more executive experience than first-term Senator Obama.
"My understanding is that Governor Palin's town of Wasilla has I think 50 employees," Mr Obama said in an interview with CNN. "We've got 2,500 in this campaign. I think their budget is maybe 12 million dollars a year. You know, we have a budget of about three times that just for the month." Republican officials were expected to announce today how they would reorganise the rest of the program of the convention, which is due to end with McCain's acceptance speech on Thursday.