http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122265784614384667.html SEPTEMBER 29, 2008 Game Plan for Palin Is Retooled Ahead of Debate Top McCain Aides Oversee Preparation After Recent Flubs By MONICA LANGLEY The McCain campaign moved its top officials inside Gov. Sarah Palin's operation Sunday to prepare for what is certain to be the most important event of her vice-presidential campaign: her debate on Thursday with Democrat Joe Biden. Additionally, at the urging of the Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, Gov. Palin will leave late Monday for his Arizona ranch to prepare for the high-stakes debate. The moves follow several shaky performances by Gov. Palin last week and come amid concern and grumbling from Republicans, and even a few queries from her husband, Todd Palin, according to campaign operatives and Republican officials. McCain campaign manager Rick Davis and senior adviser Steve Schmidt are planning to coach the candidate ahead of the debate, according to senior advisers. They traveled Sunday to meet the Republican vice-presidential nominee in Philadelphia. After her appearance with Sen. McCain at a rally in Columbus, Ohio, these top officials plan to fly with her on Monday to Sen. McCain's ranch in Sedona, Ariz., which they hope she will find a comforting place to prep, these people said. More broadly, the McCain campaign aims to halt what it sees as a perceived decline in the crispness and precision of Gov. Palin's latest remarks as well as a fall in recent polls, according to several advisers and party officials. McCain officials denied any problems inside the campaign. "The nature of political campaigns, with all their ups and downs, is for insiders and outsiders and no-siders to register complaints, often anonymously," said Tucker Eskew, a counselor for Gov. Palin. "We all in this campaign understand that, and we're not distracted by it, even as we welcome well-intentioned and good advice." Some prominent Republicans and senior members of Congress have expressed worries about certain facets of the Palin campaign, particularly that Gov. Palin may be "overprepared" and not encouraged to be herself, an adviser said. "She hasn't had the time or inclination to question the judgments of the people telling her to hit her marks," said one Republican strategist. "Gov. Palin is a team player, but the campaign needs to adjust to a game plan that works for her." For his part, Mr. Palin has worried about the frequent separation of his wife from her family, friends and Alaska staff, an adviser said. Accordingly, her family will be with her in Sedona during this week. Also, a key Alaska staffer joined the Palin operation Sunday. Meanwhile, the more experienced advisers assigned to her by the McCain campaign are accustomed to working with seasoned candidates, not someone "completely green on the national stage," one strategist said. Several Republican backers have griped that the campaign has put the candidate in difficult situations, from sitting for high-profile television interviews to popping into meetings with foreign leaders, some of whom made sexist remarks, said several officials. "It's time to let Palin be Palin -- and let it all hang out," said Scott Reed, a Republican strategist. From her campaign's perspective, Gov. Palin isn't getting media attention for her contributions. For example, with foreign leaders last week, she had detailed conversations about the national-security and global implications of the energy crisis, one adviser said. Since her selection nearly a month ago, the 44-year-old governor has excited the party's conservative base with huge crowds and newfound fund raising. She remains popular in many areas, and last week drew 60,000 people to an event near Orlando, Fla. But in recent days, Gov. Palin flubbed quasi-mock debates in New York City and Philadelphia, some operatives said. Finger-pointing began, and then intensified after her faltering interview with CBS anchorwoman Katie Couric. However, she performed better when she took questions from the press after touring Ground Zero and remarked about her parents' visit there after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Her performance also sparked negative responses from some conservative pundits, and she has slipped in some polls. Last week, nearly half the respondents in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll said she is unqualified to be president, while one in three said they were "not at all" comfortable with the idea of Gov. Palin as vice president, up five points from a poll in early September. Until the weekend, the highest levels of the McCain campaign were focused on Sen. McCain's response to the financial crisis and his own debate against Sen. Barack Obama. The McCain campaign has put in place several other well-regarded advisers to Gov. Palin, including head of vice-presidential operations Michael Glassner, who has worked for former Sen. Bob Dole, and Mr. Eskew, who worked for President George W. Bush's campaign and administration. Amid the heavy scrutiny in a close campaign, Gov. Palin is under considerable pressure to make Thursday's debate a "game changer," advisers said. The campaign is sending in Sen. McCain's debate coach, Brett O'Donnell, to help with her preparation, advisers said. Though he always was expected to help out after Sen. McCain's debate Friday in Oxford, Miss., Mr. O'Donnell now needs to "undo" much of her previous debate prep, which has resulted in occasional "rote" responses, one adviser said. "We've got four days," another adviser said Sunday. "People love Sarah Palin and she's got a unique personality and presence we need to bring out -- not shut down." Aides will work with her this week to be certain her responses use "her words," this adviser said.