Critics of Sarah Palin have accused the John McCain campaign of keeping his running mate in a “cone of silence” for not having her hit the Sunday-morning talk shows immediately after the convention.  The McCain campaign played coy, only stating that McCain and Palin would conduct interviews at the times and conditions of their choice.   That set off howls of outrage, claiming it to be a verification that Palin couldn’t handle media scrutiny.

It seems that Team McCain may have been sandbagging:

But it turns out that she is spending much of Thursday and Friday with Gibson — at the ceremony in Fairbanks, Alaska, and at her home in Wasilla, Alaska.

Campaign aides said the anchorman will get extensive, repeated access to Palin throughout her first trip home since becoming the nominee.

“ABC News will have plenty of time to question her and examine her and spend time with her,” a campaign official said. “They’ll do multiple interviews over two days. No topics are off-limits – there are no ground rules. There’s tons of time to talk to her about every topic.”

The remarkable rollout reflects new confidence in Palin by her handlers, who initially had suggested it would be a while before she did interviews. Now, there will be several.

Sandbagging is a term used in bowling (and golf, I believe) where a participant deliberately underperforms at first to get a better handicap for the rest of the season.  This seems applicable to the McCain approach to Palin, a strategy practically handed to them by the media and Democrats.  They spent so much time and effort throwing mud at Palin in the first few days that they drastically lowered expectations for her acceptance speech — and she dazzled America with it.

The campaign did the same thing with press scrutiny in the general election.  They waited for a few days, and then they arranged to put Palin in one of the most difficult positions for any candidate — two days in an uncontrolled environment with a network news agency.   They get two days in the life of Sarah Palin to do with as they will.

That doesn’t sound like Team McCain has a confidence problem with their new running mate.  It sounds like they think she’ll hit home runs, even in a difficult environment.  If McCain and his team worried about Palin, they would have cocooned her in 15-minute interview slots in little conference rooms, with handlers at her side.  Instead, they’ve allowed ABC and Charles Gibson unfettered access over two days, with no limitations on topics or venues.

Why ABC, and why such intimate access?  The Republicans want to expand Palin’s appeal beyond the conservative base that has been energized with her selection.  They think her intelligence, wit, and energy can attract voters in the center as well as with women who may still be skeptical of Palin.  ABC has provided the most balanced coverage of the alphabet networks this cycle, and they can hope that Gibson won’t come in with an Olbermann-like agenda.  (Brokaw wouldn’t have been a bad choice, but there was no way Team McCain was going to give NBC any scoops while they still employ Keith Olbermann.)  It guarantees a wide dissemination of whatever results from the interview, and gives Palin a chance to make a pitch to a much wider swath of the electorate.

That doesn’t sound like a campaign afraid of its running mate.  It sounds like a campaign that has a champion, and wants to force the media to lower expectations once again to gain maximum impact.