Larry J. Sabato's Crystal Ball
http://www.centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/articles/itw2008090401/
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REPORTS FROM THE REPUBLICAN CONVENTION


DAY ONE: MORNING

There were lots of words John McCain's campaign wanted to focus on during the first day of the Republican convention. Unfortunately, the spotlight of Day One has been far from the Twin Cities, where the convention is being held. The word of the day is unquestionably "Gustav." The Category 2 hurricane made landfall Monday, the first scheduled day of the Republican National Convention. As a result of the hurricane, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney both cancelled their speeches to the convention. The Republican Party cancelled almost all official events Monday, excepting the procedural ones that are absolutely necessary for the nomination process and newly-scheduled speeches from First Lady Laura Bush and the woman who hopes to succeed her, Cindy McCain.

What do these weather-related developments mean for the Republican message? Gustav is, essentially, a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it reminds Americans of Hurricane Katrina---far from President Bush's shining hour. Instead of focusing on the future of the Republican Party, voters are treated to visuals that are virtual reruns of the Katrina coverage three years ago. With Bush's poll numbers in the dumps, Republicans cannot afford to have too much reflection on the Katrina disaster, nor can they afford to have him center stage on television for this week which was supposed to belong to John McCain.

Still, there is another side to the sword that is being overlooked. The GOP has done everything possible to present a compassionate front, quickly responding by changing the convention schedule, sending officials to the affected area, and planning charity fundraisers. Could this contrast with the Katrina response show Americans how much the party has changed? If McCain takes the wheel and Bush takes a backseat, this could represent a changing of the guard. Such a visible change is desperately needed by the Republican Party, which is struggling to overhaul its image in the face of Bush's unpopularity.

Clearly this is not the ideal situation, as months of planning have gone into this quadrennial event. The GOP will no doubt lose a valuable opportunity to control a week's worth of news coverage, but they're working hard to squeeze at least a little lemonade from the lemons they've been dealt.

DAY ONE: EVENING

The appearance of outgoing First Lady Laura Bush and the woman to succeed her, Cindy McCain, on the same stage brought to mind some interesting thoughts. The inherent statement was an interesting one. It was a clear message of continuation-if Cindy McCain is next in the White House, she will continue Laura Bush's legacy. However, isn't that a little off message?

Can anyone honestly imagine President Bush and John McCain trading lines in a speech and holding hands as they wave to crowd? Of course not. That would be politically unpalatable, to say the least. Yet, there were Laura Bush and Cindy McCain, standing hand-in-hand at the podium.

Their speeches, and alternating finale, focused on Hurricane Gustav, as did much of rest of the day's discourse. Almost every convention speaker acknowledged the storm in some manner, with appeals to donate money to the relief effort via websites and text messages. John McCain was mentioned, but the name "Gustav" was on at least as many lips this opening day; perhaps unavoidable, but clearly undesirable as well from a political standpoint.

Much of the local news coverage focused on the anti-war, and generally anti-Bush, protests that took place in St. Paul today. Protesters marched from the state capitol to the Excel Center, site of the GOP convention, during the early afternoon. While organizers had projected 50,000 participants, the final total appears much closer to 10,000. Stealing the show were 100 or so masked, marauding anarchists who flitted in and out of the peaceful protest, smashing store windows, destroying property, and disrupting traffic. More than 50 of these violent protesters were arrested, but the main story seems to be low turnout compared to projections. Just as the McCain campaign must be careful with controlling their message, controlling expectations is another important part of politics that anti-war advocates could improve upon.

Nationally, the only political story breaking through the Gustav coverage relates to Sarah Palin's 17 year-old daughter, whom her mother announced was pregnant following allegations circulating on the internet. The quick read is that Palin followers and conservatives will use the disclosure as a reason to strengthen their support, citing her strong pro-life reaction with the daughter deciding to keep the child and marry the father. Democrats and, more importantly, some independents might see this unexpected development as a sign that McCain's team did not thoroughly vet Palin and will wonder what else his campaign has missed with regards to Palin's background or other issues.

Does this news remove Palin's pick as a potential positive? Not necessarily. If more bad news emerges, the choice of Sarah Palin could become a signal of the sloppiness of the McCain campaign. But if, as some have suggested, this represents merely a "flushing" of Palin's' negatives up front, it could be smooth sailing from now on. After all, Biden has his own past problems; but for voters those are old news. Is two months enough for voters to forget about Palin's baggage? Probably. In the end, voters are predisposed to ignore the vice-presidential nominee, and without a major deal-breaker in the front of their minds, both vice presidential picks are likely to be non-issues in November.

Post date: 2008-09-02 00:00:00
Post date GMT: 1970-01-01 04:59:59


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