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« Obama Accepts Nomination, Pledges "American Promise" | Blog Home Page | GOPers Reserve Ad Time »

Strategy Memo: McCain's Turn

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota -- Good Monday morning. After various road trips, flights and other comedy, the RCP crew has landed in the Twin Cities for the GOP convention. Here's what Washington and St. Paul are watching today:

-- Barack Obama's week ended with a bang in front of 84,000 people in Denver, but did he get any sort of meaningful rise out of the Democratic National Convention? The latest Gallup daily tracking poll has him leading John McCain by a 48%-42% margin, the same margin by which Obama led after Hillary Clinton's speech to the convention on Tuesday. The latest RCP Average shows Obama leading McCain by just 3.4 points, up from a 1.6-point lead as Obama's convention started.

-- Point to one of a few factors to blame for the nonexistence of a meaningful and sustained post-convention bounce for Obama. One might be the announcement, just hours after Obama's big speech, that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin would be McCain's running mate, a decision that galvanized conservatives and raised a boatload of cash for the campaign. Another may be the fact that the country simply remains too divided to provide a big boost for any one candidate. Neither explanation is as simple as it seems.

-- Choosing Palin has been the first thing McCain has done in years that has seriously excited the conservative base (Arguably the last thing he did that got them as revved up was to lose in 2000). A massive crowd packed a gym in Dayton, Ohio, and a rally outside St. Louis drew a whopping 17,000 people, Jonathan Martin reports. That pales in comparison to the 84,000 who showed up in Denver, but it's a lot better than the hundreds McCain has pulled to his own events.

-- As we wrote yesterday, the reaction of conservatives to the pick was unanimously positive. She's young, she's got a reputation as a corruption fighter, and she's got a pro-life record that cannot be questioned. Too, she represents a new generation that has sought to get the GOP back on a fiscal conservative course. In short, she's just what McCain needed to fire up a Republican base that had so far been content to watch from the sidelines. A large number of GOP activists said something similar, while others feared another white male on the ticket (A sentiment several consultants echoed to Politics Nation), as the Washington Post's Shear and Eilperin write.

-- Or maybe Palin isn't the perfect pick. The governor of Alaska is involved in a scandal surrounding the dismissal of a state public safety commissioner, and though the extent of her involvement is unknown, it's one of those scandals in which tapes are involved. The investigation, spearheaded by the state legislature, is slated to wrap up October 31. Add in Palin's previous support for the so-called Bridge to Nowhere, which USA Today's Ken Dilanian reported today, a position directly at odds with that which she expressed at her Dayton announcement, and lingering questions over whether a governor in office for just over a year and a half eliminates McCain's most effective argument -- experience -- against Barack Obama and there is reason to question whether Palin should have even made it to the short list.

-- Meanwhile, McCain's gathering in St. Paul, coming on the heels of the Denver confab, will be dramatically scaled back this week as Hurricane Gustav bears down on the Gulf Coast. The storm will make landfall this morning as a Category 3, which is weaker than some officials had feared. President Bush is in Texas preparing to respond, while McCain spent part of yesterday in Mississippi getting a briefing on federal officials' plans to react to the storm. Today's planned speeches have already been canceled, and the Republican National Convention will consist entirely of business, adjourning after just a few hours.

-- The storm provides a risk and a potential upside to McCain, and don't think both campaigns aren't already adding up the political pluses and minuses. The moment a single levy breaks, Americans will be reminded of a lackluster response to Hurricane Katrina that finally sunk the Bush presidency to the pit of unpopularity. But if the storm doesn't cause major damage and loss of life, McCain looks presidential for putting politics aside for a few days. Too, if he reacts and visits the region before his acceptance speech, McCain can highlight his distance from and criticism of the Bush Administration over Katrina, a factor officials with the campaign point out as a big plus. And in an unmitigated positive, both Bush and Vice President Cheney will not be speaking at the convention tonight, great news for a candidate trying to distance himself as politely as possible. (More on Gustav from Weekly Standard's Noemie Emery)

-- Winner Of The Day: With Palin chosen especially to win support from women voters, the biggest winner of all may be Hillary Clinton, the New York Times' Patrick Healy writes. After a nasty primary race and a gracious concession speech, Clinton's appeal to women voters remains strong. Without a big gender gap, Democrats cannot win. Therefore, Clinton is likely to be deployed more on the trail, giving her a sustained higher national profile. Palin gives women voters an excuse to look at McCain again, while Clinton's backing could be that which prevents them from doing so.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama is rallying in Detroit on Labor Day, followed by a barbeque in Monroe and a rally in Milwaukee, both in Michigan. McCain is in Toledo, Ohio after a three-day tour with his new vice presidential selection; later he heads to Philadelphia. Joe Biden is in Pittsburgh and Scranton, while Palin arrived in St. Paul yesterday along with Cindy McCain.