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Did they check Palin's backstory?

The announcement Monday by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her husband that their 17-year-old daughter is five-months pregnant out of wedlock raised new questions about how thoroughly John McCain investigated the background of his vice presidential pick.

Whether the 72-year-old McCain's selection of 44-year-old Palin as his running mate was carefully considered or impulsive is a matter of growing interest.

Although the Palins made their announcement in response to Internet rumors, McCain advisers said that he knew about the pregnancy before he settled on Palin, and said that Palin had been thoroughly vetted.

A pregnancy statement, attributed to Sarah and Todd Palin and released by the campaign, said that Bristol Palin would keep her baby and marry the child's father, identified only as a young man named Levi. The baby is due in late December.

“Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned. We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents,” Sarah and Todd Palin said in their brief statement.

It was also revealed Monday that an attorney had been hired to represent Palin in a state ethics probe and that her husband, Todd, had been arrested for drunken driving two decades ago. The man who led McCain's vice presidential search team said he thought everything that came up as a possible red flag during the background check had now been made public.

“I think so,” Arthur Culvahouse Jr. told The Associated Press. “Yes. I think so. Correct.”

In Alaska, however, there's little evidence of a thorough vetting process.

While it's possible that some people in Alaska were called during the process, there was no sign of it. The former U.S. attorney for Alaska, Wev Shea, who enthusiastically recommended Palin back in March, said he was never contacted with any follow-up questions.

Republican Gail Phillips, a former speaker of the Alaska House, said that she was shocked by McCain's selection of Palin and told her husband, Walt, “This can't be happening because his advance team didn't come to Alaska to check her out.”

“We're not a very big state,” Phillips said. “People I talk to would've heard something.”

Walt Monegan, the commissioner of public safety whom Palin fired in July, said that no one from the McCain campaign contacted him, either. His firing is now the subject of a special legislative investigation into whether Palin or members of her administration improperly interfered with the running of his department by pushing for dismissal of a state trooper involved in a divorce battle with Palin's sister.

The FBI declined to say whether it conducted a full-field investigation of Palin's background before McCain tapped her as his running mate.

Previous vice presidential picks – even those with long records in national politics – have come under much closer scrutiny. In 2000, Democratic nominee Al Gore picked Joe Lieberman after a vetting process that lasted about 10 months, including poring through some 800 legal opinions Lieberman had been involved with as Connecticut Attorney General.

Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, was asked Monday as he walked through the Xcel Center in St. Paul if he was satisfied with Palin's vetting. “I'm not gonna get into that,” he said.

As their national convention got under way Monday, Republicans stood by Palin and tried to make the media coverage, rather than McCain's decision-making, the issue.

“We're asking the media to respect a person's privacy,” said Maria Comella, Palin's campaign spokeswoman.

McCain's Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, said the reports about her daughter's pregnancy have no relevance to the Alaska governor's potential performance as vice president.

“You know my mother had me when she was 18,” Obama said. “And how family deals with issues and teenage children that shouldn't be the topic of our politics, and I hope that anybody who is supporting me understands that is off-limits.”

However, Sherry Whistine, a Republican conservative blogger from Palin's home area of Wasilla, said that she can't believe how Palin could accept the nomination knowing it would spotlight her daughter.

“What kind of woman, knowing all of this, knowing this is happening, would put her children in the position where the whole world, the whole nation, is going to see the uglies?” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report
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