On the night of the hard-fought Florida primary, John McCain spoke about weighty issues -- whether the Republican Party had lost its way and how he would fight America's enemies.
His 23-year-old daughter, Meghan, broke down the night's atmospherics on her blog. "What does it feel like to win the Florida primary?" she mused. "It feels like the Doors song 'Break on Through.' "
That night as the ballots were counted, Meghan and her fellow "blogettes" -- photographer Heather Brand and producer Shannon Bae -- captured John McCain's private party in a Miami hotel suite.
There was the potential first daughter drinking a beer -- "just trying to chill out a little bit in the hall" -- as she gave an update on the state of the race.
Then to the inner sanctum: South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham shouting "Viva McCain! Viva McCain!" as the networks called the race; McCain sharing a tete-a-tete with his wife before heading to the stage; and Meghan popping the champagne cork for a late-night toast.
As she has stepped out on the campaign trail in her Chloe aviator shades, sweater dresses and stylish boots, Meghan McCain is one of the most visible members of her father's entourage. No detail of campaign life is too trivial for her fizzy Web posts, at mccainblogette .com, which focus on iTunes playlists rather than fine points of policy.
The children of presidential candidates are often deployed on the trail to humanize their parents, but their appearances are usually carefully choreographed and managed. The Romney sons roamed Iowa in an RV talking about their father's business acumen. Chelsea Clinton dazzles audiences with her grasp of issues like the public health infrastructure in Rio de Janeiro, but she doesn't speak to reporters.
Meghan McCain posted a photograph this week showing herself leaping through the air on a "sugar high" in Wisconsin, as her dad talked on the phone in the background. And she makes no apologies for leaving policy discussions to others.
"I don't think it's my role," she said, frowning, when asked if she deliberately steers away from the issues. The blog is independent from the campaign and not vetted by campaign staffers. (McCain said that his daughter never asked his permission for her endeavor but that "it seemed to be fine.")
Her blog is "not about politics," Meghan said. "It's not a medium to get policy or to sell my candidate's issue," she said.
Instead, with an eye toward young voters, she is trying to strip away the mystery with a behind-the-scenes look at her family and closed-press events like a recent fundraiser hosted by MGM Chief Executive Harry Sloan.
"I don't need access, I am the access," she quipped. "There's a reason why reality shows are so popular."
She got the idea when friends didn't understand what she was doing on the campaign trail. "I just kind of wanted to show people that the campaign trail is messy; candidates' children aren't perfect," she said.
If she were the first daughter, she says, "I'd want to expose everything. . . . Because I don't understand how, in politics, it got to this point where politicians and their families have been so isolated."
Meghan posted her most serious comments several hours after the New York Times ran an article on its website questioning McCain's relationship with a lobbyist during his 2000 run for president. She described politics as "dirty and cruel" and defended her father, saying he is "compassionate, full of life, hilarious and is a beacon of integrity to myself and to so many others."
McCain gave his daughter a plug Friday in Indianapolis when asked how he plans to connect with young voters: "By recommending that everybody read the blog my daughter Meghan works on. It's excellent."
A onetime intern at Newsweek and "Saturday Night Live," Meghan is one of seven siblings and the oldest of McCain's four children with his second wife, Cindy. She was raised in Phoenix and attended a Catholic charter school before heading to Columbia University, where she majored in art history and graduated in 2007.
Her stint on the campaign trail is merely a detour, she insists, on the way back to Manhattan, where she hopes to design "a high-end couture line that goes up to plus sizes."
She feigns horror when asked if she'd consider a career in politics. "Oh, my God, never! I will never run for office, ever, and that's a promise."
Meghan registered as an independent and voted in 2004 for Democrat John F. Kerry. She initially had reservations about the Iraq invasion but says she supports her father's position on the war now and is vague when asked if they disagree on other issues.
"I'm more liberal on social issues," she said carefully in a recent interview on the campaign plane, "but when it comes to global warming, stem-cell research and the war in Iraq, we agree on those issues."
What Meghan does share with her father is his penchant for small talk -- well known to those who follow her posts or the captions she writes to accompany the hundreds of photos on the blog.
For a while, she said, McCain's campaign felt like "a rock band that was on tour, hoping to have their recent album go platinum." Other musings, as she calls them, also veer far off her father's campaign message.
Her "pseudo-first date" with a Ron Paul supporter? "I didn't have the heart to tell him who my dad was," she blogged. That close-up shot of Henry Kissinger's shoes? "Who doesn't want to know what kind of shoes Dr. Kissinger wears?" Her father's diet? "My dad wanted to eat a candy bar for dinner, I said 'hand it over' and got him a salad." The green rubber band McCain wears on his wrist? "It's sort of like his stress ball that he wears all the time." Florida Gov. Charlie Crist -- a potential McCain running mate? "FYI: he's just as handsome in person as he is on TV," she wrote.
When readers e-mailed asking about her look, she answered with an 800-word treatise, including her all-time favorite eye shadow shade ("Kitten") and her lip gloss shade ("Life on the A-List" is one).
Some of Meghan's posts have generated vicious Web commentary on celebrity or political gossip sites. Readers have picked apart every aspect of her appearance from her weight to her platinum hair. When the online magazine Salon wrote about Meghan, one reader asked, "Why is this girl so vapid?" The media gossip website Gawker noted that her post on the night the New York Times story was published was followed up with "500 pictures of herself"; a reader wrote, "Chelsea could totally kick this girl's ass."
When the insults began last fall, they caught Meghan off guard: "They see blond hair and they see makeup, and automatically I am whatever their blond stereotype is." The upside, she said, is that young girls have thanked her for demonstrating that interest in world events and "fun clothes" aren't mutually exclusive -- and that doesn't make one an "airhead."
"I didn't know I was going to become the spokesperson for that -- but it's kind of what happened," Meghan said.
Reading the scathing comments was a window into her mother's experience in the 2000 presidential campaign, when McCain's foes distributed fliers falsely insinuating that Cindy McCain had a drug problem and claiming that Meghan's younger sister, Bridget, whom her parents adopted from Bangladesh, was McCain's illegitimate child.
When friends began sending Meghan links to some of the negative comments about her blog, Cindy McCain fired off an e-mail telling them to stop.
"I've related to Mom in a lot of ways recently in how cruel people can be online," Meghan said, as her mother sat protectively beside her during the interview. "You have to brush it off."
The critiques haven't altered the scope of Meghan's blog -- though she did recently trade in her much-talked-about heels for Chuck Taylor sneakers on the trail.
She isn't sure whether the blog has an effect on her father's appeal to voters. "I do think people are looking at him a little bit more like a dad," she said. "But I think it's been statistically shown that kids have almost nothing to do with the way you see the candidate.
"The blog for me was showing young women they could be interested in politics and everything else," she said. "I choose to show that I'm a real person with, you know, shortcomings, and that this is my life."