'Working The Refs'?

On the eve of Thursday's vice-presidential debate in St. Louis, the McCain campaign is voicing confidence in moderator Gwen Ifill's professionalism while simultaneously sowing doubts about her ability to be fair after learning that she is working on a book about a new generation of black leaders called, "Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama."

The book, which is being published by RandomHouse, is set to be released on Jan. 20, 2009, the same day that the next president is sworn into office.

"Does this help that she has written a book that is favorable to Sen. Obama? Probably not," John McCain told Fox News' Carl Cameron on Wednesday.

McCain embedded his doubts about the VP debate moderator in a set of comments that otherwise voiced confidence in Ifill who is the anchor of WETA's "Washington Week" and a senior correspondent for PBS' "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer."

Sarah Palin took a similar tack, downplaying the book's significance while simultaneously suggesting that it would force her to work "that much harder."

"I am not going to let it be a concern," said Palin on Sean Hannity's radio program before implying that Ifill's book contains a pro-Obama bias that will force the G.O.P. ticket to "work that much harder."

"Its motivating to me even to hear Gwen's comments there," said Palin, referring to a clip of Ifill discussing her book, "because again, that will make us work that much harder and that provides even more fairness and objectivity and choices for the voters on November 4th, if we try that much harder."

Rudy Giuliani joined McCain and Palin in sowing doubts about Ifill without directly criticizing her.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call arranged by the McCain campaign, the former New York mayor described Ifill as a "very honest, decent journalist," adding that he has "no question that she will be perfectly fair in the way she asks the questions."

But like McCain and Palin, Giuliani simultaneously raised doubts about her.

"If the moderator of this debate were someone who was writing a book that basically was 'The Age of McCain,' I have a feeling that a lot more of these publications would be saying that the person should not be doing it," said Giuliani. "Now it might be totally unfair to do that. Just as I think it's totally unfair to do this. But it's just one more indication of how there is a double-standard in the way this campaign is treated."

"But on the basic question," he continued, 'Should Gwen Ifill do the debate?' Yes, she should. But the question, 'If you put the shoe on the other foot what kind of outcry would there be?'"

Biden spokesman David Wade accused the McCain campaign of "working the refs" while simultaneously talking up Palin's debate skills by referring to the Alaska governor as an "undefeated Cicero of the Snow."

"The McCain campaign is acting in a manner befitting Washington insiders, working the refs, distracting for dear life from the issues at stake in this debate which unfortunately for them are what honest to goodness Americans actually care about," said Wade. "It's desperate enough the way they've talked down the debating skills of their own undefeated Cicero of the Snow, next I assume they'll turn their fire on the camera guy and the nice fella who fills the M and M tray in the Green Room."

McCain's talk-radio supporters were unsparing in their criticism of Ifill. Rush Limbaugh described Ifill as "totally in the tank for Barack Obama" on his Wednesday radio program.

"This is a conflict of interest," Rush Limbaugh said Wednesday. "She has a financial stake in Obama winning the race in addition to whatever other stakes that she has invested in Obama winning the presidential race."

Ifill dismissed the criticism from conservatives in an interview with the Associated Press.

"I've got a pretty long track record covering politics and news, so I'm not particularly worried that one-day blog chatter is going to destroy my reputation," Ifill told the A.P. "The proof is in the pudding. They can watch the debate tomorrow night and make their own decisions about whether or not I've done my job."

Ifill said that it was her publisher, not herself, who set Inauguration Day as the release date for book. She said Obama's story, which she has yet to write, is only a small part of the book, which discusses how politics in the black community have changed since the civil rights era.

Former Bush Secretary of State Colin Powell is also a subject of the book.

The Kicker:
"Hmm, let's see."
--Sarah Palin to CBS' Katie Couric when asked to name a Supreme Court case other than Roe v. Wade with which she disagrees

On the campaign front. . .

-- 9:00 pm ET: Hold vice presidential debate moderated by Gwen Ifill in St. Louis, MO.

-- 6:15 pm ET: Holds Town hall in Denver, CO.

-- 9:30 am ET: Holds Rally in Grand Rapids, MI.
-- 2:30 pm ET: Holds Rally in East Lansing, MI.

At the White House. . .

-- No public events.


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