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Sarah Palin's "bridge to nowhere" claim comes under a microscope

September 9, 2008 | 12:45 pm

Who could have foreseen that Alaska's infamous "bridge to nowhere" would become the presidential campaign's debating point du jour?

The surprise spotlight on the project speaks volumes about how the race has been transformed.

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin works the crowd at a campaign rally in Lebanon Ohio As many commentators have noted, Barack Obama and his aides have been less than sure-footed in calculating how -- and to what degree -- they should directly engage Sarah Palin. Initially, Obama and his staff sought to keep their focus on the top of the Republican ticket (that would be John McCain for those who may have forgotten)

But as Palin-mania has sustained itself, that strategy has appeared to ignore reality.

And today, perhaps in a sign of an altered response, the Obama camp and its allies came out firing on one front, hotly disputing the credit Palin takes for turning down federal funding for that proposed bridge in the Land of the Midnight Sun.

Since McCain tapped her as his running mate on Aug. 29 (hard to believe that was less than two weeks ago) Palin at every opportunity -- using virtually the same phrasing -- has told crowds that as governor of Alaska, "I told Congress, 'Thank but no thanks for that bridge to nowhere.' "

She re-ran the line again today at a rally in Lebanon, Ohio. But she did so in the face of a release from the Obama forces noting that a plethora of reporting shows her stance on the project -- which would have connected the small city of Ketchikan to the even smaller island of Gravina -- isn't so black-and-white.

The first story cited in the Obama release, tellingly, ran in the Wall Street Journal today. It's headline: "Record Contradicts Palin's 'Bridge' Claim."

The release also points out that the independent came to the same conclusion recently. (The group has an update on the bridge dispute.)

Joining the Obama effort to deconstruct Palin's position on the project is a posting on the web site -- a sign that liberal advocacy groups are fully engaged on the issue.

[UPDATE: Conservative groups are having their say, as well. The anti-tax Club for Growth put out a release today scorning Obama for "hypocrisy" on the bridge issue. It notes that in 2005, he voted against a Senate amendment to thwart funding for the project.

We checked with the office of the amendment's sponsor, Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and learned that he proposed re-routing the money to help repair a bridge damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Obama was one of 82 senators to vote against the amendment (obscurely described in congressional records); only 15 supported it. Missing the vote: McCain.

-- Don Frederick

Photo credit: Associated Press