TAMPA, Florida, Monday

Vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin says the $150,000 in clothes and accessories bought for her by the Republican National Committee don’t belong to her, equating the high-priced wardrobe with the stagecraft at campaign rallies.

Dogged for days by the brouhaha over outfits from upscale stores such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, Palin argued yesterday that she and her family live frugally. To emphasise her point Sunday, she wore jeans at an event in Asheville, NC.

"This whole thing with the wardrobe, I try to just ignore it because it’s so ridiculous," Palin told a Florida crowd earlier in the day.

"Those clothes, they are not my property, just like the lighting and the staging and everything else the RNC purchased," she said. "I’m not taking them with me. I’m back to wearing my old clothes from my favorite consignment shop in Anchorage, Alaska."

Wrong size

Yesterday, a McCain spokesman said about a third of the clothes were returned because they were the wrong size or for other reasons, and the rest would be donated to charity.

Palin talked about her accessories Sunday: earrings that were a gift from her husband’s Yup’ik Eskimo mother, and "a $35 wedding ring from Hawaii that I bought myself. Because with my ring, I always thought, it’s not what it’s made of, it’s what it represents."

Stark contrast

News of such expensive clothes offered a stark contrast to Palin’s image as an average "hockey mom."

Nine days before the election, Palin was making another push to sway voters in the battleground state of Florida, where polls show Republican nominee John McCain trails Obama in the fight for the state’s 27 electoral votes. The Interstate 4 corridor between Tampa to Orlando, where Palin was concentrating her efforts yesterda, is where most of the state’s undecided voters live. It takes 270 Electoral College votes to win the presidency. —Reuters