As often as five times a day, John McCain’s senior policy adviser, Nancy Pfotenhauer, appears on television with her model’s good looks to present the campaign’s take on the latest issues. Off-screen, Pfotenhauer learns how the media think.
“You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve been asked off camera by mainstream reporters,” Pfotenhauer tells me over lunch at McCormick and Schmick’s near McCain campaign headquarters in the Crystal City section of Arlington, Va.
Reporters regularly ask her about the latest scurrilous tale on the Internet, particularly about Sarah Palin, and appear to believe every word.
“I’ll say, ‘There’s no factual basis in that,’ ” she says. “And they present it as if, ‘We all know it’s true.’ And it colors their entire line of questioning. They are issues regarding the parentage of Governor Palin’s children, issues involving how she had gotten into office, issues involving basic competency.”
Since the McCain campaign tracks the blogosphere, it knows the sources of the rumors and myths. The most persistent ones, alongside the facts, are outlined in the Newsmax article "Sarah Palin Mythology Debunked."
[Editor's Note: Read “Sarah Palin Mythology Debunked” — Go Here Now].
“I’m thinking, ‘Are you actually believing what you’re reading here, with not a shred of factual evidence behind it?’ ” she says. “It’s the virulence and the lack of evidentiary basis for what is going on that is astounding, and the wholehearted acceptance of these horrible things as true. They want to believe these things, regardless of the fact that there is no evidence to support them.”
As Pfotenhauer sees it, the media can’t stand Palin not only because she is a true conservative but also because she is not part of the Washington establishment.
“The mainstream media have the attitude they don’t know her, so she is somehow unqualified,” Pfotenhauer says. “That is the implication. In their minds, she hasn’t done the Washington Sunday talk shows and cocktail circuits. I keep saying, ‘She’s a sitting U.S. governor. How come you keep leaving that off?’”
To be sure, Pfotenhauer says, “You can argue that her tenure has been relatively short, but being a governor has over our history been considered some of the best training for being president of the United States, whether for a Republican or Democrat. Why? Because running a state is pretty much good training for running a country.”
A former chief economist of the Republican National Committee, Pfotenhauer served as president of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum for five years. President Bush appointed her to the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board.
Months before everyone counted McCain out in the summer of 2007, Pfotenhauer began volunteering for the McCain campaign. As his staff dwindled to ten, she stayed on, eventually going full-time last May. Besides acting as an advisor, she is McCain’s surrogate for media appearances.
Married to Kurt Pfotenhauer, president of the American Land Title Association, she has five teenagers. Since going with the campaign full-time, she has been working 14-hour days. During a rare break for lunch away from campaign headquarters, she enjoys a Greek salad, saying it is the first salad she’s had since last May.
“For lunch, I have pizza the campaign brings in, and for dinner, I have Lean Cuisine French bread pizza,” she says.
Pfotenhauer often appears on TV from a studio the campaign built on the floor that elevator buttons designate “M” for McCain. She was the first McCain aide to appear on TV after his announcement that Palin was his nominee for vice president. Only a few of McCain’s top advisers knew of his decision.
“We knew the shortlist, but I learned he had chosen Palin when I watched the announcement speech,” Pfotenhauer says. “There were hundreds of people at campaign headquarters gathered around television sets. And when he rolled it out, there was this huge swell, people shouting, clapping, tears in their eyes.”
Besides confirming McCain’s conservative leanings and maverick approach, his choice of Palin is consistent with his respect for strong women, Pfotenhauer says.
“If you’ve ever met Roberta McCain, his mother, she is a strong, independent female,” Pfotenhauer says. “He married Cindy McCain, a strong, independent female with a heart the size of North America. I remember reading that she had a fear of flying, so she went out and got her pilot’s license. She brought a baby back from Bangladesh and just got off the plane and said, ‘John, meet your new daughter.’ ”
On McCain’s Senate staff, three out of five of the top staffers are women. Women on McCain’s staff earn an average of 24 percent more than women on Barack Obama’s Senate staff.
“I think what Senator McCain was really attracted to was that Palin earned her reputation as a reformer,” Pfotenhauer says. “She didn’t just talk the game. She’s taken on the big boys, literally and figuratively, and he knew what that was like. He loved the chutzpah and the moxie to do that. He loved her very strong sense of integrity. There’s right, and there’s wrong. And what the choice signaled about John McCain is that he saw that value. It became the three-dimensional proof that he’s a reformer and a maverick.”
The fact that Palin disagrees with him on some issues such as drilling in the ANWR region of Alaska appeals to him, Pfotenhauer says.
“He loves to engage with experts who agree and disagree with him, and to just ask questions until he has no more left,” Pfotenhauer says. “That’s why I think the town hall meetings appeal to him. He’s not afraid if somebody doesn’t agree with him. That’s extraordinary in this town, where people try to control and script their interactions.”
Pfotenhauer often participates with McCain in calls to experts.
“I can tell you every time there’s a call that’s scheduled for half an hour, it lasts for an hour and 15 minutes,” she says. “If it’s important, he’s going to stay in that conversation, stay in that call, wants to hear everything, wants to follow up. Then he wants to hear more later that night.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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