By Calvin Woodward
WASHINGTON — A new ad from John McCain's presidential campaign contends his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, "stopped the Bridge to Nowhere." In fact, Palin was for the infamous bridge before she was against it
THE SPIN: Called "Original Mavericks," the ad asserts the Republican senator has fought pork-barrel spending, the drug industry and fellow Republicans, reforming Washington in the process, and credits Palin with similarly changing Alaska by taking on the oil industry, challenging her own party and ditching the bridge project that became a national symbol of wasteful spending.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton came back with fighting words. "Despite being discredited over and over again by numerous news organizations, the McCain campaign continues to repeat the lie that Sarah Palin stopped the Bridge to Nowhere," he said.
Burton said McCain would merely carry on supporting President Bush's economic, health, education, energy and foreign policies, and that means "anything but change."
THE FACTS: Palin did abandon plans to build the nearly $400 million bridge from Ketchikan to an island with 50 residents and an airport. But she made her decision after the project had become an embarrassment to the state, after federal dollars for the project were pulled back and diverted to other uses in Alaska, and after she had appeared to support the bridge during her campaign for governor.
McCain and Palin together have told a broader story about the bridge that is misleading. She is portrayed as a crusader for the thrifty use of tax dollars who turned down an offer from Washington to build an expensive bridge of little value to the state.
"I told the Congress 'thanks but no thanks' for that Bridge to Nowhere," she said in her convention speech last week.
That's not what she told Alaskans when she announced a year ago that she was ordering state transportation officials to ditch the project. Her explanation then was that it would be fruitless to try to persuade Congress to come up with the money.
"It's clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island," Palin said then.
Palin indicated during her 2006 campaign for governor that she supported the bridge, but was wishy-washy about it. She told local officials that money appropriated for the bridge "should remain available for a link, an access process as we continue to evaluate the scope and just how best to just get this done."
She vowed to defend Southeast Alaska "when proposals are on the table like the bridge and not allow the spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that's so negative" _ something that McCain was busy doing at the time, as a fierce critic of the bridge.
Even so, she called the bridge design "grandiose" during her campaign and said something more modest might be appropriate.
Palin's reputation for standing up to entrenched interests in Alaska is genuine. Her self-description as a leader who "championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress" is harder to square with the facts.
The governor has cut back on pork-barrel project requests, but in her two years in office, Alaska has requested nearly $750 million in special federal spending, by far the largest per-capita request in the nation. And as mayor of Wasilla, Palin hired a lobbyist and traveled to Washington annually to support earmarks for the town totaling $27 million.