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Strategy Memo: Garrison's Not Happy

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota -- Good Thursday morning. For a journalist, the greatest part about a convention is the plethora of politicos just standing on the street corner. Like former New York Governor George Pataki, waiting for his ride last night, who gamely said hello to anyone who happened by. Here's what Washington and the Twin Cities are watching today:

-- It's the last day of the Republican National Committee, which late last night formally nominated John McCain and Sarah Palin as the party's standard-bearers headed into November. It's also the last day of PalinPalooza, brought to a fever pitch by the vice presidential nominee's speech in primetime yesterday. Today, the focus shifts to the guy who actually brought the delegates to Minneapolis, as McCain puts the finishing touches on his acceptance speech.

-- But delegates and the media aren't going to get over Palin's own acceptance speech that easily. Widely fawned over by conservative writers, Palin's speech was perhaps most notable for the number of Democrats it scared. Prominent strategists not involved in Barack Obama's campaign expressed alarm at Palin's talent, and they had reason to: Forget the attack lines, look at Palin's appeal to a certain electoral vote-rich segment of the population. We're not talking about women; when Palin hits on her family being just like yours and the struggles small businesspeople go through, she's speaking straight to voters in Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio and the entire Midwest

-- Palin's accent sounded like she could live down the street from the Xcel Center in St. Paul. In fact, Palin could be the candidate from Lake Woebegone, Garrison Keillor's fictional Minnesota town where the women are strong, the men are good looking and all the children are above average. Palin's entire goal was to make voters take a second look at John McCain, and she may have perked up a lot more ears than she or the campaign could have reasonably hoped. (By the way, her parents were still at the hotel bar by 1 p.m., hearty Alaskans that they are)

-- Back to Palin's speech, which offered as much red meat as Joe Biden's acceptance and received probably twice the interest of her party's base. Vice presidential speeches are less about forming policy than they are about serving as the go-to attack dog, and Palin didn't disappoint. She flubbed a few lines and stepped on a few moments of applause, but we gave her a B+ right after the speech (Admittedly, before we'd heard Democrats' responses).

-- Palin didn't make things any easier for her new boss, though. Tonight it's McCain's turn to be the center of attention, and he has a reputation as a mediocre speaker, at best. With Palin getting all the GOP attention, is there a danger the presidential nominee is overshadowed at his own convention, leading some Republicans to think they nominated the wrong candidate?

-- By the way, what if they held a convention and no one showed up? About 21.5 million viewers tuned in to the Tuesday session of the Republican National Convention, well below Democrats' numbers for the comparable day. Perhaps more disturbing, viewership was down 600,000 from the second day in 2004, according to Nielsen. How many people watch McCain's speech tonight could determine whether or not the convention is a success.

-- Our final thought about Sarah Palin, and it's an important one: The country got a good first impression of Palin, especially if they watched her in the same room as a Republican diehard. But the McCain campaign's insistence that the media is to blame for going over the top in attacking the vice presidential nominee is absurd. Will some outlets go over the top? Of course, and several have said inappropriate things about both parties.

-- Blame some for pregnancy rumors, terrorist fist bumps and both parties' baby mamas. But don't lump them in with journalists asking questions about Palin's involvement in the firing of a state public safety commissioner, a scandal complete with tapes and now emails, the Washington Post writes today. Don't lump them in with those asking questions about Palin's experience; after all, there are 39 governors with more time in office than she has, and she's never issued an order to the Alaska National Guard, as McClatchy points out today. The McCain camp's claims of sexism, writes Ron Fournier, isn't entirely justified.

-- Spilled Milk Of The Day: Two speeches that stand out so far this convention came from two officials we've already heard from a lot. Former Senator Fred Thompson and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani each gave strong defenses of McCain's record and his positions, slamming Democrats every chance they got. Strategists for both Thompson's and Giuliani's once-promising presidential campaigns have privately wondered to Politics Nation where that enthusiasm and passion was while they were candidates.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain has nothing publicly planned other than giving his acceptance speech, and Palin will be there to watch. Barack Obama has a rally planned in Lancaster, Pennsylvania today before taping an interview on Bill O'Reilly's show. Wife Michelle has events scheduled for Santa Fe and Albuquerque, while Biden is holding a morning confab with voters in Virginia Beach.