Sarah Palin's credibility as a possible American Vice-President is being undermined by a series of spoof photographs circulated on the internet.
The saucy pictures, which exploit her glamorous image, have been published amid a concerted ‘dirty tricks’ campaign against the former beauty queen, following her surprise appointment as 72-year-old Republican candidate John McCain’s running mate.
One shows her apparently wearing a leather miniskirt and stilettos, while another has her in a Stars and Stripes bikini, brandishing a rifle.
While the images could be seen as harmless fun, they will hinder the relatively inexperienced 44-year-old Alaskan Governor’s attempts to be taken seriously as a political heavyweight.
Barbara Brunton, a Republican Party spokeswoman, told The Mail on Sunday: ‘There is a dirty-tricks campaign being waged against Sarah Palin by the liberal lobby.
'They have flooded the internet with fake photographs that make her look like a stripper. It’s nothing more than a vicious smear campaign.
‘Our political enemies have simply put Sarah’s head on someone else’s body. It’s easy to do with Photoshop. The idea is to undermine her character and to stop people from respecting her.’
The pictures come after a widespread smear campaign of tawdry rumours about Palin’s private life – including claims she had an affair with one of her husband’s business partners, which were strenuously denied last night.
America’s National Enquirer magazine made the allegations about an unnamed man, but internet gossip sites quickly named the alleged ‘lover’ as Scott Richter, 44, who co-owns property with oilfield worker Todd Palin.
Richter’s ex-wife Debbie, a former campaign worker, categorically denied the claims last night.
‘I can tell you with 1,000 per cent certainty that Sarah Palin never had an affair with my ex-husband,’ she said angrily.
‘Sarah is driven, determined and committed to public service. She will not be deterred by anything.’
Palin has threatened to sue over the allegation.
In Palin’s Alaskan home town of Wasilla, locals are stunned by the attention she has brought to their sleepy community.
Local resident Anne Kilkenny, who has known Palin all her life, said darkly: ‘Sarah Palin is a woman who is good at keeping secrets. Like the fact she kept her pregnancy secret for seven months. I have no idea why she did that.’
Another person familiar with Palin said: ‘There is more dirt to come out. People are scared to talk now because she is representing Alaska and Alaskans don’t want to do anything to make our state look bad.
‘But Sarah has trodden on a lot of toes. She is no angel and she has made some enemies along the way.
'She is ruthless and ambitious and will stop at nothing to get what she wants. There are skeletons in her closet.’
Locals say that Wasilla, like much of small-town America, is plagued by problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, especially among bored teenagers.
The Mail on Sunday was openly offered marijuana at one of the town’s drive-through coffee stands. The girl at the Pacific Coast Espresso coffee stall on West Parks Highway, two miles from Palin’s Lake Lucille home, said: ‘I can get you pot. I’m just waiting to get a call back. How much do you want?’
But the wilderness around Wasilla means that in many ways it is far from a typical US town.
Palin, a lifelong National Rifle Association member, taught her children to handle a .22 rifle from the age of ten, and enjoys taking her three eldest children Track, 19, Bristol, 17, and Willow, 14, to the local shooting range.
‘The kids would mostly bring their own rifles. As far as I could see, they’re all expert shots,’ said Pat Kilkenny, a regular at the range.
‘I’ve not seen her in a while because they had to close the place down. Hazardous lead levels were created as a result of so many bullets being fired.’
Fellow resident Andy Kopczenski, a 58-year-old father of seven, said: ‘If everything that Sarah’s saying sounds kinda rough to everybody else then that’s because they didn’t grow up in a place where they had to shoot dinner.
'Every day here is hunting season because if US$2000 worth of meat runs across my front yard, I’m putting it in the freezer. OK? You get an immediate reality check living in Alaska.
‘All the kids are firearm savvy. We don’t have Bambi up here; we have animals that can kill you.
'An eight-year-old might meet a bear as he walks to school, so he better know how to protect himself.
‘Even a moose can kill you: That thing weights 1,000lb and has hooves sharper than you can dream. You can die every day here if you’re not careful.’
He also told of how Palin’s high profile has changed the character of the small town, a criss-cross of log cabins on streets with names such as Polar Bear Drive or Grizzly Bear Road.
‘The Secret Service went into her neighbourhood and screened everybody,’ he said. ‘She’s got a motorcade every time she hits town and there are three “Men in Black” vehicles parked permanently outside her home.’
In a town where the idea of a good night out is reindeer sausage or a moose burger at The Mug-Shot Saloon, the thought of one of their own in the White House is still beyond comprehension.