With Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for the November 4 presidential election, establishing an average 7 percentage point lead in the national public opinion polls, Republican contender John McCain could ill afford a controversy. Now an official indictment of his running mate Sarah Palin’s abuse of her Governor’s office for personal ends threatens to drive droves of uncommitted voters into the opposition camp. The Republican-dominated Alaska legislature recently endorsed an investigator’s report that Governor Palin had tried to browbeat subordinates into dismissing a policeman who was once married to her sister. The State trooper in question, Michael Wooten, was clearly not a model officer. But he had been given the maximum permissible punishment for the misdemeanours he was accused of committing. The investigator was convinced that the efforts to get Mr. Wooten dismissed were motivated by the Palin family’s pique over divorce and custody disputes. Although the investigator concluded that the Governor had violated the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act, legal proceedings are not expected to be instituted against her. The findings on the unsavoury ways of Ms Palin who has talked up her record as a moral crusader are likely to prove politically toxic for the Republican ticket.

The ‘troopergate scandal’ surfaced just as the Republicans were trying to change the terms of the political debate. Given the trauma of the financial crisis, voters are understandably most concerned about pocketbook issues. According to the opinion polls, a significant majority believe that the Democrats will tackle the economic problems far more competently than the Republicans. Confronted with the hard data, Mr. McCain has been trying desperately to transform the election into a referendum on the ‘character’ of the two candidates. His aim is to sow doubt in the minds of uncommitted voters about Mr. Obama’s suitability for the top job. There is a subliminal theme to Republican campaign propaganda that is sinister and has not been disowned emphatically enough by the two people at the top of the party ticket. At rallies of the Grand Old Party, hard core conservatives have hurled racial abuse at the African American who seems headed for the White House. Unless something really untoward happens, these desperate measures are not likely to work. Not only is Mr. Obama’s countrywide lead increasing by the day, poll-related graphics show that battle-ground States are steadily turning Blue.