Archive for the 'VP-GOP' Category

McCain ad compares Palin to Obama, as media vetting continues and GOP women blast coverage

By now, most of you have surely seen the latest version of John McCain’s celebrity ad that asks what remains if you “take away the crowds and the chants.” The answer: Barack Obama’s connection to the (unpopular) Democratic Congress and its tax-and-spend mentality. The GOP has used ads like this for years, but in the past decade, the liberal icons who were invoked were Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy - both known enough nationally to be effective boogeymen. But McCain can hardly invoke Clinton (not after this or this) and Kennedy this year, and this ad has fallen back on Harry Reid, Chris Dodd, Pat Leahy and… Byron Dorgan.

I hope my North Dakotan readers forgive me, but even I would have been entirely incapable of recognizing Sen. Dorgan from his picture. I cannot imagine that most TV viewers would know who Dodd and Leahy are, and since the ad doesn’t provide any subtitled names I doubt many will be able to identity Harry Reid either. It’s hard to understand what devoting the McCain campaign hopes to accomplish by devoting so much of the ad’s visuals to tying Obama to old white men few will recognize.

With the Palin media frenzy continuing, however, the McCain campaign has bigger fishes to fry and they have already moved to a new ad that is sure to get a lot of attention (though Politico’s Martin is skeptical as to whether the ad will actually air that much):

It is quite extraordinary for a presidential campaign to cut an ad contrasting its vice-presidential candidate to the other party’s presidential nominee. That is not a comparison voters usually make when choosing their ticket, but given how much criticism Palin’s qualifications have attracted, the McCain campaign wants to give her more credibility. The ad argues that if voters are comfortable with Obama’s experience they have no reason to have any doubts about Palin.

But it is primarily the change argument that this spot is designed to push. There is no defense of Palin’s executive experience here and her management of thousands of state employees; what the ad highlights is her “credentials as a reformer.” In what is the GOP’s usual argument, Obama is dismissed as an empty suit blinded by fame and whose reputation as an agent of change is nothing but “empty words.” Obama is just more of the same, the ad claims, “liberal” and into big oil. The ad goes on to put forward Palin as the true agent of change who has not only talked the talk, but also walked the walk.

Focusing on change over experience is a risk for the McCain campaign, as Hillary Clinton was not able to wrestle the change argument away from the Illinois Senator. Simply put, voters think of Obama when they think of change and McCain when they think of experience. Joe Lieberman made a strong case yesterday for why McCain is both simultaneously - a steady leader at a time of crisis, and a maverick who would break away from the Bush agenda - but will that be enough? When the time will come for voters to make their decision, they will compare Obama and McCain (not Obama and Palin) and the Arizona Senator can’t afford to have them think about who the true agent of change would be.

That said, the McCain campaign deliberately chose a strategy of change when it picked Palin last week, and it is surely not escaped them that the focus of the coverage she has receiving have shifted from a criticism of her degree of experience to one of her reformist credentials. (extreme conservatism, earmarks, AIP, troopergate). The Obama campaign is doing its best to shift the conversation there by being increasingly proactive about attacking Palin.

For the first few days, they mostly stayed away, content to let the press do its job. But some Democrats might be getting nervous that the media frenzy might backfire among women. The McCain campaign is doing its best to encourage such a backlash, as GOP leaders have been stepping up their attacks on Democratic sexism. This spot continues the GOP’s new strategy of introducing more or less subtle attempts at gender wars: TPM notes that the lines about Palin are read by a female voice, those about Obama are read by a man.

The more the criticism Palin receives is focused on her personal life, the more this backlash is likely to take place and the Obama campaign is now trying to prevent that. They feel that there are enough political topics on which Palin can be discredited that they ought to stir the conversation in that direction. That is exactly what Obama spokesperson Bill Burton is trying to do in this statement: “What she needs to do, however, is explain her reformer credentials in light of the revelations that she supported the Bridge to Nowhere and hired a big lobbying firm to win her small town millions in earmarks.”

Today’s ad is a response to the coverage Palin is getting, and as such it is a reactive ad. The Palin pick was designed to shake up the race, but it looks like McCain has lost control. Even The View demands to know more about Palin, whom multiple articles are now saying has been “secluded.” Articles like this stunning piece by Howard Kurtz will do nothing to change that narrative, and neither will the Washington Post’s revelation today that Palin was not subjected to a lengthy face-to-face interview before Wednesday, a mere day before McCain finalized his choice.

Today, the AIP is about to be replaced by a new controversy as the most damaging skeleton in Palin’s closet. The press is now zeroing in on controversial comments that were given at Palin’s church in Palin’s presence just two weeks ago by the leader of Jews for Jesus, David Brickner. And so the slow drip of news continues, distracting the McCain campaign on a day that is meant as a celebration of Palin. If nothing else, this story will make it more difficult for Republican groups to use Jeremiah Wright in the next few weeks. To their credit, the McCain campaign has shown no sign it will go there, but independent groups and state parties have.

Here again, we need to remember that voters will contrast Obama to McCain, not to Palin, so that the Palin-Brickner connection will not protect Obama when Wright comes up. After all, Obama and Wright have a long relationship and nothing indicates that Palin had anything to do with Brickner nor Jews for Jesus prior to that sermon from August.

But the parallel between the Brickner story and the Wright story is hard to miss. In fact, any story devoted to one will now probably have a brief paragraph mentioning to the other - and that has the potential of bringing back Wright just as much as it has the potential to embarass Palin. The McCain campaign certainly pounced on the occasion: “If the Obama campaign wants to have a debate about who was in church for what sermon, that’s not an argument we’re going to shy from,” said a McCain spokesperson. The last time the McCain campaign made such a statement was over housing two weeks ago. Soon after, Tony Rezko made a comeback. Are we about to see more of Wright?

Update: Well, in case we had any doubt that the McCain campaign is aiming at gaining among female voters by pushing a backlash against the coverage Palin is receiving, Republican women put on a giant show today at the convention center, blasting the Obama campaign and the press for their “smear” campaign against the Alaska Governor.

When a vice-presidential pick becomes a distracting drip of daily revelations

I was going to stay away from Sarah Palin today as I have been focusing on her pick for days now, but she remains the main topic of the political conversation for the fifth day in a row now. Talk about the vetting she received and about the various controversies the press is working on continues to overshadow the preparations for the convention’s first night.

Given that Palin has become comedy fodder, that Wonkette is using a “Fail-o-meter,” that Politico is raising the name of Eagleton, it is easy to conclude that Palin has become an utter disaster for the McCain campaign but we are not there yet, far from it. The most tangible impact of her pick up to now has been to fire up the conservative base and rally social conservatives to McCain’s sides. That is something McCain needed and that he could not have won without. The relentless attacks on Obama’s character were increasing the party’s cohesion, but that is nothing compared to the excitement Palin appears to have generated. After all, she even got James Dobson to be enthusiastic about McCain’s candidacy.

Palin’s big test will come tomorrow night. The problem, of course, is that a lot of what Palin might say might be immediately contradicted by new revelations on Thursday morning and in the days ahead. The New York Times and other papers have sent an army of investigators to Alaska to do some research on Palin (something the McCain campaign should have done more carefully). Even if nothing else comes to light, that will continue to feed revelations about “troopergate” and the Alaska Independence Party.

Much of the news about Palin isn’t necessarily that interesting, but given the fact that even the political press knows little about her, every new tidbit of information is being portrayed as explosive information instantaneously. And this is the true danger for McCain: a slow slow drip of news. If the Alaska Independence Party story generates a new headline every time another AIP member steps forward to talk about Palin, how many more days will that last? At this point, all the talk about Palin has become a gigantic distraction from the McCain campaign’s other goals of the week.

It is certainly possible - and many are making this argument - that Palin will come to be viewed as an “average” American, a hokey mom people can relate to. But when US Weekly gives her the Britney treatment, it’s a sure indication that her pick could quickly degenerate into something very different. Note that the second bullet point is devoted to troopergate… something that the McCain campaign was surely not expecting to become this big:

Average mom or (dare we say it) a celebrity? [Update: Palin is also on the cover of OK!, though the cover is far friendlier and highlights "A Mother's Painful Choice."] the Even Levi is now heading to the Republican convention. Some of this was inevitable with this unknown a pick, but a lot of is the fault of the McCain campaign.

The campaign insists that Palin was fully vetted - McCain himself reassured reporters today, and so did Culvahouse; there was also this full push-back in the Washington Post - and that Palin was put through as thorough a vetting as the other contenders. They surely knew about “troopergate,” perhaps about Bristol’s pregnancy, but I find it hard to believe that they were aware of Palin’s campaigning for the bridge to nowhere in 2006. It would not have taken them very long to find this, but would the McCain campaign then have made her opposition to the bridge to nowhere such a central part of her introduction on Friday?

Whenever a campaign has to spend days justifying the fact that is has vetted its running-mate, that’s precious lost time. Let’s do our daily recap of which stories are generating buzz besides what concerns Palin’s private family life. The day began with reports on the millions of dollars of earmarks Palin asked for Wasilla as mayor - even hiring a lobbying firm. That certainly makes it more difficult for her to run as an anti-earmark crusader today.

Then, there is the Alaska Independence Party. As reported yesterday, officials of the AIP were suggesting yesterday that Palin was a former member of the AIP. We now know that Sarah Palin was not a registered member of the AIP, as the McCain campaign showed that she had been a registered member of the Republican Party since 1982.

However, we knew yesterday that Palin filmed the welcome video of their convention last year and we learned today that that her husband Todd was a registered member of the party until 2002. Questions are now surrounding whether Palin attended the AIP’s convention in 1994. And this is where the slow slow drip of news is concentrating today, as ABC has found two officials of the AIP who say she did. The McCain campaign says she did not, in what ABC describes as a “he said/she said” game. When a campaign does not want a story to become big, “he said/she said” is generally not the best course.

Given that the AIP is now looking even more of a fringe group than it did yesterday since Ezra Klein reports it is an affiliate of the Constitution Party (a party that wants to “restore American jurisprudence to its original Biblical common-law foundations”), the story is likely to continue to stay in the news. Indeed, the far-right extremist angle of attack is what Democrats have apparently chosen to emphasize, in what they also view as a way to rally back registered Democrats and Clinton supporters who might be tempted to view McCain as a moderate. Democrats are starting to pound on Palin as an extremist social conservative, faulting for instance the ease with which she mixes religion and politics.

That theme is generating some unwelcome coverage. While the McCain campaign was surely eager to tout its conservative credentials, articles such as this one from Time was probably not what it had in mind - and given that there now are dozens of reporters roaming in Alaska, in Anchorage and in Wasilla, expect much more of this:

[In 1996] Palin was a highly polarizing political figure who brought partisan politics and hot-button social issues like abortion and gun control into a mayoral race that had traditionally been contested like a friendly intramural contest among neighbors… While Palin often describes that race as having been a fight against the old boys’ club, Stein says she made sure the campaign hinged on issues like gun owners’ rights and her opposition to abortion (Stein is pro-choice).

Governing was no less contentious than campaigning, at least to begin with. Palin ended up dismissing almost all the city department heads who had been loyal to Stein, including a few who had been instrumental in getting her into politics to begin with… Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. “She asked the library how she could go about banning books,” he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. “The librarian was aghast.” That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn’t be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving “full support” to the mayor.

Who knew being the mayor of such a small town could lead to this much contention and controversy? In what has to be one of the worst press Palin has gotten in the mainstream media since Friday, Time goes on to describe Palin as an opportunist who gave up her focus abortion in 2006 when she decided to run for Governor, focused on corruption and decided that abortion would “distract” her from that message. The article defines “Sarah-dipity” as “that uncanny gift of knowing exactly what voters are looking for at a particular moment.”

One area in which the McCain campaign is also pushing back reports is Palin’s ties to Pat Buchanan, ties they categorically deny, pointing out that Palin supported Steve Forbes in 1996. But that only goes to show how unprepared the McCain campaign was, as it took them 5 days after these reports first emerged to take such a strong move to counter them. Also, if Democrats want to make an issue of this to rally Jewish voters (and I reported the other day that Rep. Wexler of Florida had certainly jumped on the opportunity), they still have material to use - Buchanan’s calling Palin a “brigader” and her wearing a Buchanan button when the former candidate visited Alaska in 1999.

Update: If you are wondering what voters who had heard little about Palin until this week-end and who don’t follow every detail of the news are learning about her now, just check this summary of tonight’s CBS news.

The Palin pick: When a campaign is reduced to improvisation

Modern political campaigns are supposed to control everything down to the smallest detail, but the past 72 hours have reduced the McCain campaign to a state of improvisation. Sure, Sarah Palin was not an out-of-the-blue pick which popped up in McCain’s brain at the last-minute; she submitted her vetting information months ago, after all, which means that she was under consideration as soon as the veepstakes were launched.

But it does look like her name reemerged as a serious contender only in the final days before the pick, leaving the legal team a short amount of time to take a serious look at her. It is still not clear if political advisers vetted Palin at all, parsing through her stances and past statements to see if they contained anything that could embarrass the McCain campaign. But numerous reports are pointing out that McCain’s team conducted little to no field work in Alaska and did not talk to players of Alaskan politics. In fact, Andrea Mitchell reported that Republicans are now traveling to Alaska to do some research!

The result is truly outstanding. The past 24 hours alone have led to a flurry of revelations about Sarah Palin, the most high-profile of which is not the most politically embarrassing. None of them is threatening by itself, but put together they are creating a lot of noise and only encouraging the press to delve further into Palin’s past. And there is no telling what else remains out there - and what has to make Republicans nervous is that McCain doesn’t seem to know either.

Indeed, the McCain campaign is looking downright ignorant about a lot of these stories which is making their response unprepared and muddied. And this is ultimately the great risk of the Palin pick: If the McCain campaign has to think of ways to answer new questions it was not aware of every day, it could prove quite a distraction.

So let’s review what we have learned up to now, starting with the biggest bombshell of them all: Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter Bristol is 5-months pregnant and will marry the father of the baby soon. This revelation followed days of rumors that Sarah’s youngest kid was in fact Bristol’s and that she had covered up her daughter’s pregnancy. Steve Schmidt refused to say whether McCain knew about this before picking Palin, but other sources indicated he did - but most people in the campaign did not and neither did Palin’s spokesperson.

It is impossible to judge what effect if any this revelation might have on the campaign. Social conservatives could to be as attracted to the fact that Bristol chose to carry the baby than in Sarah’s decision to keep Trig; or they might find it worrisome that the family could serve as a role model for other teenagers. But one thing is clear: This is noise, this is a distraction and the fact that no one in the GOP really knew how to deal with it only accentuated the cacophony.

Another big story everyone is starting to look at is Palin’s relationship with Alaska’s Independence Party. This organization demands a vote on secession and seeks “the complete repatriation of the public lands, held by the federal government, to the state and people of Alaska.” Now, the Independence Party is saying that Sarah Palin and her husband Todd were both members of the group in the 1990s. Was also unearthed this welcome video shot by Palin for the Independence Party’s convention, as well as this video of a party’s chairman touting that the new Governor was a member of the party. If this story gets any further, it could prove very embarrassing for the GOP. At the very least, Palin will be asked why she wants to be the vice-president of the US when she belonged to a party that wanted to secede from it.

Furthermore, two key lines of the first version of Palin’s stump speech - the one she delivered in Dayton, OH on Friday - have come back to haunt the campaign, a clear sign that they had not really checked for everything they were saying. First, Palin’s praise of Hillary Clinton (a move that was stunningly shrewd) was meet with boos at a Saturday rally. This is obviously not surprising given how Republican activists feel about Clinton, but the campaign should have thought that through and stories were written Palin’s subsequent abandoning of that line. The GOP is at least lucky that McCain figured out that was a losing sentence before the convention delegates booed it on Wednesday.

Second, Palin had touted her opposition to the bridge to Ketchikan (a.k.a. nowhere) on Friday, saying that her state did not need the federal government for such things. “I told Congress, thanks but no thanks on that bridge to nowhere,” she said. It only took the Anchorage Daily News two days to flatly contradict Palin’s statement, reporting that she had campaigned on a pro-bridge platform in 2006, pledging to make “progress on that bridge project.” Adds the Daily News, “she said she could feel the town’s pain at being derided as a nowhere by prominent politicians.” Second, she did not reject the earnmark money Congress sent her for the project - she only used it elsewhere.

On Friday, Palin was one of those prominent politicians to call Ketchikan “nowhere,” but the media’s quick reporting could prevent her from mentioning her opposition to this infamous bridge in future speeches and it damages one of her most high-profile claims at fiscal discipline. If the McCain campaign touted this story as much as they did in the first 48 hours of the Palin pick, chances are they were not aware of it - had not done enough research to find statements Palin made just two years ago.

Then, there is “troopergate,” which barely seems worth mentioning now that there are all these other questions surrounding Palin, but this is clearly one of the big question marks surrounding her. (If you are still looking for some background information, here is more. Remember that the question is not only whether she pressured the state’s Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan to fire her ex-brother-in-law and then fired him because of his refusal, but also whether any aide or her husband did so and if so whether she knew about it).

Palin has now taken a private lawyer to advise her in this investigation, and Walter Monegan is showing signs that he intends to brings Palin down as he went to the press to detail what happened between him, Sarah and Todd. The investigating team is scheduled to release its report on October 31st, just days before the election. If Palin is found to have used her office abusively, such a conclusion would be handed down just days after the Ted Stevens verdict, and while the two have little in common in scale or in nature, the back-to-back events could put a lot of attention on the Alaska Republican Party’s ethical problems.

Another question is Sarah Palin’s social conservatism. That is, of course, one of the reasons McCain chose her, but how much does McCain want Palin’s positions to be discussed in the mainstream press? It was one thing that Palin is well to the right of McCain on abortion, that she does not believe in man-made global warming nor in evolution and favors the teaching of creationism, she also favors abstinence-only progams. McCain shares that latter position, but not all of the others, and he generally stays away from such topics. In fact, his campaign wanted to cultivate the impression that he was more of a moderate on social issues and exploit the misguided perception that McCain is pro-choice.

Finally, there is the question of the Jewish vote. The McCain campaign has denied that Palin backed Pat Buchanan in 1996 or 1999, but Buchanan himself called her one of his “brigaders.” If anything, Jewish voters are one constituency in which her Christian social conservatism could play against her, and Politico’s Ben Smith reports that there is a lot of e-mail traffic in the Jewish community about Palin and her thoughts on Israel. This is a constituency McCain was hoping to make some progress in, and that was supposed to be one of the reasons he had an edge in Florida.

At the very least, Palin is bound to make some mistakes in the coming weeks, just as any politician thrust under the spotlight overnight would make mistakes. For now, Palin is still doing her introductory tour and preparing for the convention, but she will have to engage in more spontaneous interviews soon and she is surely preparing for that now. But there are a lot of issues that Palin has not had to deal with as Governor of Alaska and knowing the appropriate response or the exact phrasing to use on some of the more delicate diplomatic matters (in particular Israel) takes months of preparations, not a few days.

We knew that the Palin choice was a gamble. As I have said many times, this pick could still go either way and there are a lot of ways in which Palin has proved a boost for McCain - he has stolen the spotlight, the conservative base feeling energized is as much reward as McCain should have even dreamt of. For now, none of the revelations are enough to make McCain regret that he chose her, but he better hope that Palin stands up well under further scrutiny.

Update: Ben Smith writes, “I can’t remember the last introduction to the national scene this rocky, and it gets worse every hour — and even before the investigative reporters have settled in to Anchorage.” At least so much problematic news about Palin is emerging at once that it might just all be too much to make an impression. Just check out condensed everything is in this Times piece. And is the McCain campaign now opening itself to accusations of having used Gustav to dump bad news? Says the New York Times:

Mr. McCain’s aides disclosed the news at the same time as Hurricane Gustav struck land in what they said was an orchestrated attempt to minimize attention to it… Mr. McCain’s campaign, which has shown itself adept at handling the news media, tried to influence coverage of the disclosure by releasing it as Hurricane Gustav was slamming into the Gulf Coast… It was also by every appearance tucked into a series of problematic tidbits released about Ms. Palin’s past, including news that her husband, Todd, was arrested for driving while impaired in 1986.

“We are going to flush the toilet,” said Tucker Eskew, who is a senior adviser to Ms. Palin, describing the campaign’s plans for Labor Day, when much of the nation was busy with family and social activities.

GOP ponders fate of summer attacks, Obama continues strategy of narrow advertisments

For the past month, Obama and McCain’s advertisement campaigns have been relying on different strategies. On the one hand, the McCain campaign has released a series of ads that hammer the same “dangerously unprepared celebrity” theme. These ads use similar graphics, the same brown background, that same creepy female voice. They are not specific to a region or to a demographic because they attack Obama’s character and qualifications, the goal being to shape the campaign’s coverage by putting the spotlight on Obama and planting one overarching worry in voters’ mind - that he is not “ready to lead.”

While the Obama campaign has also been pushing an overarching theme (McCain=Bush=awful economy) nationally, it has also unleashed a wave of issue-specific and state-specific attacks. They have often not released those spots to the media, ensuring that the GOP’s response is delayed. That has often given us the impression that the Obama campaign was pulling punches, but they have been on the offensive in Ohio over DHL, Georgia over Ralph Reed, Nevada over Yucca Mountain.

Now, the GOP is facing a big problem. Its summer attacks had been remarkably successful in putting Obama on the defensive and tightening the race. Republicans had been laying the ground for mounting attacks on Obama’s experience, and they had just recently added the word “dangerously” in front of the “not ready to lead” slogan. But Sarah Palin’s pick directly contradicts that one overarching theme that the McCain campaign has been pushing so hard. Voters might judge Palin’s experience-level to be adequate, but can the GOP continue pushing Obama’s inexperience as an argument? If not, what happens to all that summer groundwork? The New York Times reports that this could become a problem next week as the convention had been designed to focus on Obama’s readiness level:

Republican organizers said the convention aides in charge of reviewing every speech delivered from the lectern are now on the watch for blunt attacks on Mr. Obama’s readiness to lead, and reviewing how much to emphasize what had been the convention theme: “Not Ready ’08.” They are aware that such criticism in a high-profile setting would provide an opportunity for Democrats to make the same charge against Ms. Palin. …

“We’ve been told for the last few months that experience is what matters most in the next White House,” said John Scates, a delegate from St. Louis. “But McCain is picking someone whose experience is little to nothing or, at best, unknown.

The convention was meant to make the case against Obama, and the GOP really needs to make him look unacceptable. How will they do so now, and is it not too late to introduce an entirely new narrative now? The McCain campaign had two choices to go with: (1) Obama is all-fame no-substance, (2) Obama is a dangerous radical. Most of McCain’s ads have been pushing the first narrative, but groups on the periphery (state Republican parties, AIE) have been playing with the second. Will McCain now turn to the second as well, and how long before Wright is invoked in Republican ads? Is it too late to make this happen for next week’s convention?

Meanwhile, Obama looks to be continuing its strategy of state and issue-specific ads. Just today the campaign unveiled two separate spots. The first is devoted to the economy and will air in Michigan. It accuses McCain of opposing government help to automakers and having voted to give tax cuts to companies that ship job oversees. A similar message could be used in other states, but Michigan is of course particularly hit by the auto-industry crisis and the economic downturn in general.

The second ad, narrated by Joe Biden, touts his Scranton roots and describes Obama’s roots as similar to his. Biden, who represents Delaware, calls Scranton “home,” an obvious play for Pennsylvania. And not only is this ad state-specific, but it is region-specific as well: it will only air in Northeastern Pennsylvania!

The Obama campaign will surely monitor the reception of that Scranton ad, as well as the success of the convention’s pushing the narrative of Obama as the embodiment of the American Dream. If blue-collar voters are feeling reassured, similar ads should be seen throughout Pennsylvania and Biden should be dispatched to blue-collar areas in states like Ohio, North Carolina.

Michigan and Pennsylvania are two must-win states for the Obama campaign. They were both won by Gore and Kerry and it is difficult to envision Obama winning the White House while losing either of these. Democrats seem like they intend to treat Pennsylvania as Biden’s home state, but some Republicans think Palin will play well in both of these states by appealing to Pennsylvania’s suburban women and by exciting the Michigan and Western Pennsylvania social conservatives.

There could be more localized advertisement to come. That same New York Times article reports that the Obama campaign feels it needs to attack McCain on abortion and pay equity and make a more explicit push for the undecided female vote. (Those issues have not been a focus of the campaign so far.) Odds are Obama would not air ads warning that McCain would threaten Roe v. Wade nationally nor in entire states. The suburbs of Philadelphia, for instance, would be a good area to hit McCain and Palin on abortion, as the GOP’s pro-life platform has long hurt the party’s outreach among female in that region. More generally, pointing out that Palin is to the right of McCain on abortion and perhaps talking more about judges will be key for Obama to hold on to Hillary supporters.

The aftermath: McCain’s money flow, Palin’s independent appeal, and Obama’s counter

With all the excitement surrounding Palin’s pick, I forgot to mention that yesterday was Campaign Diaries‘ first birthday! My first post was devoted to Senate races (ID, LA and SD), and I am particularly proud of having posted every single day of this first year. I am planning to experiment with a “One year ago today” feature on the sidebar (any feedback welcomed!).

As the Palin pick continues to generate more heated discussion on this blog than any story since Clinton’s concession, information continues to come in about the circumstances surrounding it. Particularly shocking is ABC’s report that McCain was leaning towards Lieberman as late as last week-end, and that only on Sunday night did his advisers convince him that he could not afford the conservative rebellion that would undoubtedly follow. ABC adds that only since Sunday did lawyers thoroughly review Palin’s vetting information, and even McCain’s inner circle was kept uninformed. This might seem unlikely, but we already know that McCain had only met Palin once months ago.

This report might be very significant: We know that Palin’s name was in the mix for months, but if it is true that she only got a serious look over the past few days, could the vetting process have been as thorough as it should have been? Were Palin’s potential downsides (troopergate [here is a good rundown of the scandal], Buchanan, her connection with Ted Stevens, her staunchly conservative stances on abortion or creationism) tested as much as the downsides’ of other candidates? And how much evidence does the campaign have that the female vote is truly up for grabs?

Like everything else about Palin’s pick, this could play either way. McCain’s choice could look refreshingly spontaneous, maverick-like. But if the vetting was done too quickly, if advisers were not consulted enough and if something was missed in the process, there is no telling how disastrous the next two months could be. GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska (whose father Palin defeated in 2006) has this to say about troopergate’s potential impact: “We really don’t know. The governor doesn’t know, you know; she sort of started her own investigation, encouraged it. I don’t think any of us really know — I certainly don’t know — that’s still unfolding.” Does the McCain campaign know?

Another incredible storyline behind that report is how quickly conservatives went from one of their nightmare choices to one of their favorites. I understated the significance of this in my first two analyses. McCain has always had problems with his base, and while people like Limbaugh had rallied behind him, they did so reluctantly. But conservative activists, the grassroots whose indifference was massively threatening the GOP’s ground game, seem to be truly fired up. The National Review continues to glow, and Politico’s Martin finds the same phenomenon.

This is not 2004. Democrats can win on the strength of its base, but the GOP has lost too many independents for the base to carry it to victory. Yet, it is unimaginable that McCain could win without strong grassroots enthusiasm and if the Palin pick does nothing more than fire up the base, I believe it would be worth it for McCain. Here again, however, the question arises: Jindal would have gotten the base just as excited, and had a thicker resume.

The enthusiasm the pick has generated is evident in the money flow to McCain’s coffers. He reportedly raised $4.49 million yesterday alone, an impressive sum by his standards. But remember one thing: It is too late for McCain’s fundraising to make much impact. His campaign only has 5 more days to spend whatever money they get. Starting on Thursday, McCain will be restricted to the $84 million he will get from public financing.

Perhaps due to the need to spend whatever money it has left and in particular this last-minute infusion, the McCain campaign has significantly expanded its ad buy to include, for the very first time, two new media markets in North Carolina. Obama had the state’s airwaves for himself since June, and this is the first sign that McCain is taking the threat seriously. He has also bought time in Virginia outside of NOVA, as well as in new markets in Iowa, New Mexico, New Hampshire. Particularly interesting is that viewers in Omaha (whose market reaches in Western Iowa) will now see McCain’s ads. The Omaha-based district will award one electoral vote, and Obama looks competitive.

We will have to see whether McCain keeps up this expansion starting next Friday. $84 million of public money can do a lot in the space of 2 months, but it cannot fund an effective campaign in as many states as McCain is advertising in right now. If the campaign is worried about NC and wants to keep up its spending there, it will have to cut that from somewhere else.

Beyond conservatives, an important question is Palin’s impact among independents. Gallup points out that independent women are the key constituency that Palin could move, and Rasmussen’s tracking poll from today explains why: The day after Palin’s selection, the electorate’s reaction is positive. 53% of respondents have a favorable impression of her, versus 26%. Predictably, Republicans like her, Democrats do not (including women, among which Palin’s rating is 23%), but look at independents: 63% of them have a favorable impression of Palin, and that figure is 61% among independent women. In other words, independents are reacting to Palin the same way Republicans are.

Palin’s potential, then, could come from her appeal to independent. She could look like a refreshing, maverick face and thus lead voters to have the same impression of McCain. This is the threat the Obama campaign moved to address today in its first post-Palin ad. McCain might have chosen Palin, the ad repeats, but that doesn’t mean he is less beholden to the Bush agenda. The spot takes no hit at Palin (too early?) but uses many pictures of a McCain-Bush embrace. The ad is only running on national cable, so it is meant to influence coverage more than reach voters.

A question: Is the ad acknowledging that Palin is not a Bush Republican? “While this might be his running mate, America knows that this [insert Bush picture] is John McCain’s agenda,” the ad says. While it would be foolish of them to attack Palin as a typical GOPer, Democrat might want to be careful to not paint her as a maverick.

But the biggest “huh?” of the day belongs to top McCain adviser Charlie Black’s statement in the New York Times:

She’s going to learn national security at the foot of the master for the next four years, and most doctors think that he’ll be around at least that long.

I assume this was meant as a joke, but I am not sure it comes across as one given that this is a very real concern Democrats are hinting at and that voters are sure to think about. It seems that Republicans are just as unprepared as Hutchinson and as Democrats to respond to the Palin pick.

And someone might want to tell the Alaska GOP to sound a bit more enthusiastic, however much they dislike Palin. Sen. Stevens sounds enthusiastic but not many other GOPers. The Republican House Speaker said: “She’s old enough. She’s a U.S. citizen.” Added the Republican state Senate President: “She’s not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president? Look at what she’s done to this state. What would she do to the nation?” Though considering the heat Palin received a few months ago when she giggled as a radio host called Green a bitch and cancer, it might not be all that surprising.

Update: There is nothing scientific about the New York Times interviewing dozens of undecided women nationwide, but this article is still worth a read. The newspaper is finding varying reactions to the Palin pick - in fact, as many as is possible: Republican-leaning women who feel more comfortable about McCain, Republican-leaning women who now worry about experience, Clinton supporters who are put off by her abortion stance, independents who worry that this is a token choice, etc.

The Palin pick, a few hours later

My first take on Palin’s pick summarized all of its initially known promises and risks. With such a stunning pick, analyses are bound to evolve as reactions, YouTube videos, trivia facts and old quotes come to light. After half a day of coverage, we are starting to get a better idea of the dynamics of the debate surrounding Palin, and while she still holds the promise of greatly helping McCain’s candidacy, the downsides to her candidacy are looking a bit more clear right now than they were this morning.

If my first post’s general sense was that McCain had made a strong move, this one is going in the opposite direction. My indecision isn’t surprising: This is a huge gamble and we will have to see how Palin performs in the months ahead, what coverage she receives and whether she can move the female vote before having a better idea of how her presence on the Republican ticket will play out.

I pointed out this morning that the problem McCain faced was that most of his unconventional choices (Lieberman, Hutchinson) were in some sense unacceptable to the base. That made Palin attractive: a maverick and a conservative. But there was someone else with similar attributes (diversity, youth, conservatism, outsider), Louisiana Bobby Jindal, someone with a far thicker resume though not thick enough that he would not face experience questions of his own. That McCain chose Palin over Jindal shows just how big of a risk he is taking experience-wise and certainly suggests that his campaign is banking a lot on Palin’s gender.

Conservative enthusiasm: For now, most everyone remains happy. Democrats see Palin as a cross between Spiro Agnew, Geraldine Ferraro and Dan Quayle; many Republicans are excited because she is a game changer that can energize the base, distance McCain from the establishment and appeal to female voters. And conservatives are happy because Palin is one of them; not only is she pro-life, but she opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest, she favors the teaching of intelligent design and perhaps does not believe in evolution, she does not think that global warming is man-made, and initial reports that she favored gay rights might have been overstated.

This conservative enthusiasm could be very important. McCain has had trouble motivating his base, but if conservatives, Rush Limbaugh and the National Review now become enthusiastic about the ticket, it could have an important impact on November turnout.

Experience: Yet, and perhaps this is due to the fact that those Republicans who did not get the nod appear to be pissed, there seems to be a lot of worry in GOP circles that Palin’s choice will not do, confusion as to how they are to defend her qualifications and anxiety that this nullifies McCain’s best argument. This pessimism has become more visible as the day has gone by, perhaps because the first wave of introductory bios (starting with Ron Fournier’s analysis or the New York Times’ recap) discusses her inexperience more directly than I would have anticipated.

Democrats started pounding Palin’s thin resume as soon as she was announced, even explicitly raising the issue of McCain’s age. Democrats seem to believe that they now have an opening to hint at the age question by talking about the “heartbeat.” Rep. Wexler of Florida, for instance, accused McCain of being a “complete and utter hypocrite:”

Americans should be alarmed that the former mayor of a town of 9,000 people with zero foreign policy credentials could be a heartbeat away from assuming the role of Commander in Chief.

Yes, it is unlikely that Republican-leaning voters who are afraid that Palin is unexperienced will suddenly run to Obama because of that. But what about voters who were moving towards McCain over the past few weeks because they were starting to believe in his attacks that Obama is “dangerously not ready to lead?” That, after all, had become somewhat of a slogan for the GOP.

If voters do come to think about experience as McCain has pushed them to for weeks now, will they be comfortable enough with Palin to hold Obama’s inexperience against him? And if they do not think about experience, does McCain stand any chance? This could also lead voters to question McCain’s judgment. If he truly believes that Obama is “dangerously not ready to lead,” as his commercials have said all summer, why would he pick Palin? New reports that McCain only met Palin once six months ago and talked to her on the phone once before offering her the VP position will only exacerbate the dubious coverage.

There is another experience-related risk for the McCain campaign: What if voters don’t even think of Obama and Palin as having the same level of experience? That could make Obama look better in comparison, and raise worries about McCain’s age. The GOP’s main argument to prevent that from happening is a good one: Palin is the only candidate with any candidate of executive experience, and this is something voters will care about. But there is also a lot that could make voters think of Palin as underqualified.

It’s not just that she has no foreign policy experience, but she has little foreign policy opinion, having even admitted that she hadn’t thought much about Iraq until the beginning of 2007. Beyond the question of how she will perform against Biden, how will voters react to not knowing where she stands on a lot of issues? Palin has been governor for 1,5 years and was the mayor of a tiny town before that (just recently, Rove blasted Kaine as a possible VP pick for only having been the mayor of Richmond before Governor of Virginia). Obama was a state Senator for eight years, representing around 210,000 voters - that’s about a third of the population of Alaska.

Was the McCain campaign so blinded by its disdain for Obama that they simply assumed that voters already thought of him as blatantly unqualified? McCain was supposed to relentlessly attack Obama’s inexperience next week. Will he still do that? Here is McCain’s defense of Palin’s qualifications today:

“I don’t think it’s a short resume,” McCain said. “She first ran for office back in 1992. I don’t know what Senator Obama was doing then, but the first time she ran was 1992. That’s 16 years. I think that’s a pretty, pretty event-filled and record-filled resume.”

Interjects Gov. Palin: “I haven’t had too many years other than that to fill up yet.”

So does she feel ready to be a heartbeat away from the presidency? “Absolutely. Yup, yup. Especially with a good team around us.”

In 1992, Obama had just become a law lecturer at the University of Chicago. That might not be political experience, but McCain should be careful to not dismiss Obama’s credentials too quickly, for he might then be moved to overstate Palin’s.

Ethics: A second issue is “troopergate,” Palin’s very own ethical problem. She is under investigation over the firing of a state commissioner who alleged that she was pressuring him to fire her ex-brother-in-law. The investigation was just launched last month, and while McCain surely vetted Palin over this, how much can an investigation that is just getting under way be vetted? The press is making more of this than I assumed they would from the get go. The Anchorage Daily News devotes one of the pieces on its front page to a lengthy explanation of this affair; so does the New York Times. And don’t forget that Stevens’s trial will take place starting in late September and the verdict will be handed down before the election. There will be plenty of opportunity for the press to revisit Alaska’s ethics problems.

Buchanan: A third potential problem is one that is much smaller, but I mentioning it because I was not aware of this earlier today. Palin was a supporter of Pat Buchanan’s 1996 presidential bid (said Buchanan himself today, calling Palin a “brigader”) and she did reportedly did so again in 1999. Needless to say that any connection with Buchanan could be deadly for Palin’s popularity among Jewish voters, especially among the South Florida Jews who reportedly have a deep mistrust for Obama. In a second statement, Wexler (who was on a roll today) wasted no time before seizing this opportunity:

John McCain’s decision to select a vice presidential running mate that endorsed Pat Buchanan for President in 2000 is a direct affront to all Jewish Americans. Pat Buchanan is a Nazi sympathizer… John McCain has failed his first test of leadership and judgment by selecting a running mate who has aligned herself with a leading anti-Israel voice in American politics.

That said, the two Republicans’ first joint appearance should dispel any Democratic triumphalism. For one, the crowd was as energetic as we have seen during McCain’s prior major speeches. There might be an enthusiasm gap in the electorate, but not every McCain event will be as disastrous as his June 3rd speech. Second, Sarah Palin’s speech was solid, as she demonstrated she is a good speaker that can come across as likable and that she has the potential of being a strong boost to McCain on the stump.

Gender: And then, there is the issue of gender. This is the big question mark, the topic everyone is talking about today without knowing how it will play out. This could also save Palin on the experience front. If women think that the press and Democrats are guilty of sexism by holding Palin to be less experienced than Obama or questioning her qualifications more than they are her male opponent’s, it could certainly backfire. We have had numerous examples throughout this election year of a candidate coming under attack increasing the strength of identity politics - it helped Hillary at the New Hampshire debate and Barack at the South Carolina debate.

As soon as we learned that Palin was the choice, it became obvious that Republicans were looking to seize the opportunity of the extended Democratic primary to make a play for the female vote. For anyone who has any doubts about that, Palin’s speech ought to have dispelled them. Not only did she name Geraldine Ferraro, the first and only female vice-presidential candidate on a major ticket and now the most high-profile Clinton supporter who refuses to endorse Obama - but she went on to offer soaring praise for Hillary’s ground-breaking candidacy. Palin presented herself as Clinton’s heir, as if the feminist baton had been passed from the New York Senator to her:

It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. We can shatter that glass ceiling once more.

Not much subtlety there, is there? In fact, you might remember that Hillary did not give that openly a feminist speech until the day she dropped out - but Palin is going there in her very first address as a VP candidate, appealing to women as a woman more explicitly than Clinton ever did. Yet, at a Women’s Leadership conference a few months ago, Palin said Clinton was not helping woman by playing the gender card during her campaign. (Palin also said that it was not “helpful” for Clinton to claim (”whine”) that she was the victim of sexism, and while Palin’s tone was respectful and not vitriolic.)

But the McCain campaign seems convinced that the Democrats’ rift is serious enough that the GOP has a serious shot at picking up Hillary supporters and undecided female voters. Palin’s direct mention of Clinton - a figure Republicans have often demonized - was particularly shrewd, and it will be interesting to see how often Republicans speakers refer to Clinton next week and whether the audience of conservative delegates agrees to cheer her name.

Democrats are saying that Palin’s strong pro-life stance (which places to the right of McCain) will not give her any appeal among suburban women or Clinton voters. Wexler’s statement made that point particularly strongly: “Sarah Palin is a far right, pro-life zealot who can not hold a candle to Hillary Clinton’s lifelong fight to better the lives of women everywhere.” And women’s rights groups are already mobilizing against Palin’s record. But this would first imply that female voters come to know about her exact stance on abortion. Considering that many swing voters do not know that McCain is pro-life and that Democrats are notoriously weary of tackling the topic too directly, will Palin’s stance really come through? Hillary would be best equipped to inform voters of Palin’s stance on abortion, for instance.

Republicans are surely not naive enough to think that picking a female vice-president will be enough to get women to massively vote for McCain. But there is no doubt whatsoever that there is a significant fraction of Clinton voters who have yet to fully commit to Obama. As of last week-end, some polls found Obama getting somewhere between 50% and 65% of Clinton voters. The Democratic convention, the display of party unity, Hillary and Bill’s speeches were meant to address that. All the Palin pick is meant to do is convince the Clinton voters and those women voters who have a tenuous link to the Democratic Party to keep an open mind, stay on the fence and not be moved by the Democratic convention to commit to Obama. If Palin can help keep Obama at 60% of the Clinton vote - where he was last week - the GOP would feel very good.

It’s Palin!

Talk about a gamble! This is the type of pick whose impact will not be measured for a while. This is the type of pick that comes with great potential but is fraught with risk. It could be a game-changer (and it certainly has the potential to work out brilliantly) or it could turn out to be a nightmare. But one thing is certain: If you are of the school of thought (like I am) that John McCain needed to shake things up to have a chance at toppling Barack Obama, he certainly delivered.

Sarah Palin’s name had always been mentioned in the veepstakes, so she is certainly not a complete surprise. Yet, no one seemed to believe McCain would actually go through with it. His campaign seems to have realized that Palin’s downsides might not be as significant when compared to those of the rest of McCain’s short list. Much of the media will discover Sarah Palin at the same time as the average voter, meaning that she will benefit from an upbeat, overwhelmingly positive coverage that will steal Obama’s thunder just hours after the Democratic convention.

And half-a-day after Obama became the first African-American to head a major party ticket, McCain ensured that the Republican ticket also breaks new ground and ensured that, whoever wins in November, the winning ticket will not consist of two white men for the very first time in American history.

Choosing Palin allows McCain to portray himself as a different sort of Republican, one who does not fit the party’s image as old white male patricians. Not just because of her gender, but because of her background - it puts a new face on the GOP and it could be more difficult for Democrats to attack Republicans as out of touch and owning too many houses. Change is Obama’s slogan, but McCain will now be a bit more convincing in his argument that he, too, wants to change Washington; that he, too, realizes that the Bush Administration has corrupted the Republican establishment and that he was willing to quite literally look away - far away - from DC to find a partner to implement reforms.

Palin’s outsider image will be especially strong when contrasted to Joe Biden’s, a Washington insider who has been in the Senate for more than half of his life. Of course, this could backfire for Republicans (more on the downsides below) but at least in the short term it sets up McCain as the unconventional change agent while casting Obama as the more predictable politician.

With Palin, McCain is not only claiming that he is not a Bush Republican, but that he will clean up after Bush Republicans. Expect to her a lot in the coming days about Palin’s campaign against Alaska’s Republican establishment (I wrote about Palin’s take-over of the state party two weeks ago). She defeated an incumbent Governor plagued by scandals in 2006 and endorsed Sean Parnell against another Don Young, another politician hit by corruption scandals. As Governor of Alaska, she passed an ethics reform (which will surely be invoked as one of her main accomplishments, an interesting parallel to Obama). In other words, the McCain campaign will use Palin’s work in Alaska as a - clean up.

The reason Palin’s pick could end up looking brilliant is that she combines this outsider reformist image with very conservative credentials. She allows McCain to look like more of a maverick while moving him to the right. Most of McCain’s other unconventional picks - whether Joe Lieberman, Tom Ridge or even Kay Bailey Hutchinson - would have infuriated the Right. Some might even have triggered a walk-out on the convention floor. But Palin has no such problem. In Alaska, she and Parnell have positioned themselves to the right of Stevens and Young - more fiscally disciplined. She is strongly pro-life. She has a lifetime membership to the NRA. The National Review’s The Corner is celebrating, as are other conservatives.

Palin will also focus the general election on energy issues - something McCain has been hitting on for months and that the GOP has sought to make its defining issues. ANWR is a big issue for Palin (as with any Alaska politician), and while McCain opposes drilling in ANWR he has made drilling in general a major campaign issue. Expect a lot of that now that Palin is the VP pick.

And then there is the key matter of Sarah Palin’s gender. We will now know just how solid Obama’s hold on the female vote is and how convincing the Clintons were in their convention speeches. Sure, women have never automatically voted for a woman - it did not work for Walter Mondale in 1984 - nor have other types of identity politics been effective. But this is not a presidential year like any other. Obama defeated Hillary in the primaries. Some supporters say she was the victim of sexism; some lament that this was their last opportunity to see a female vice-president. Beyond Clinton supporters, undecided female voters - soccer moms, for instance - are always a key swing vote and Palin will help McCain appeal to them. But her opposition to abortion rights might undercut her appeal to suburban women who have been put off by the GOP’s social conservatism.

If the Democratic convention left any opening for the GOP to pick-up Clinton voters, the Palin choice is a good first step towards doing so. If independent women are not as committed to voting Democratic after eight years of Bush as some think they are, they could be drawn towards Palin. If this succeeds, Obama will have difficulty recovering. A Democrat cannot win without a big margin among female voters. Obama cannot win without strong support from Clinton Democrats.

And Palin’s last benefit - a small one, but 3 electoral votes are not negligible - is to close the door for Obama in Alaska. This is one of the 18 states Obama has been investing in, and he was leading in the latest poll. But Palin is very popular in the state (a recent poll had her at 80%) and that should all but ensure that McCain pulls through.

But there is an obvious, glaring, huge problem with Sarah Palin: experience. She has not finished her second term as Governor, and before that she was the Mayor of Wasilla, a small with less than 10,000 inhabitants. She has absolutely no exposure to foreign policy issues, nor any position on them. If voters buy that experience is important, they might be looking with special care towards McCain’s vice-president. That Palin will be a heartbeat away from the presidency will be especially significant given McCain’s age and prior health problems - and that’s exactly what the Obama campaign chose to emphasize in its immediate reaction:

Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency. Governor Palin shares John McCain’s commitment to overturning Roe v. Wade, the agenda of Big Oil and continuing George Bush’s failed economic policies — that’s not the change we need, it’s just more of the same.

This argument will not go very far when the Obama campaign makes it given that his own resume is not very long. But that is what is fascinating about the dynamics of this pick - it is McCain who is running on a platform of experience, and he has complicated his task of making this election about readiness and qualifications. Over the past few hours, Republicans have been daring Obama to attack Palin’s inexperience. But that is missing the point: Obama would be delighted not to attack Palin on that front as long as McCain cannot attack him on it either!

Sure, Palin will be running on the ticket’s second slot while Obama would be the President, but if McCain rips into Obama’s qualifications, how will he justify that Palin is ready to serve? Next Wednesday, Palin will stand at the GOP convention and deliver what VPs are meant to deliver - an attack on Obama. How will she be able to hit him on the main issue the GOP has been using? “Not ready to lead,” proclaim McCain’s ads. If Palin attempts to say anything of the sort, it will sound laughable.

This is surely what the Obama campaign must be smiling about today: By choosing Palin, McCain moved on the Democrat’s terrain, seeking to seize the mantle of change rather than attack Obama on experience. In a sense, Obama did the same thing last week when he beefed up his ticket’s experience, in some way accepting the GOP’s criticism. But in 2008 the burden is on Republicans to make this election about experience and question Obama’s qualification, not on Obama to make this election about change.

Also, Palin faces some ethics issues of her own - and this could come back to disrupt the Republican ticket in the coming weeks. She is currently under investigation for pressuring for pressuring an Alaska commissioner to fire a state trooper who is involved in a divorce with her sister. She has denied any wrongdoing, but the media is sure to focus on that story much than it had up until now, and if there is anything to discover there, it could come back to haunt the GOP. Given that this has long been in the public domain, you have got to think that the McCain campaign’s vetting process looked at this.

All of this is a discussion of how Palin looks on paper. Then, there is the practice. And this is where Republicans have got to be nervous. Palin has not been exposed to the national stage before; she surely has not had to develop extensive talking-points and strong positions on a whole array of issues. In a brutal campaign trail in which every moment will be seen over and over again, in which every gaffe will be magnified and every awkward silence could be devastating, there is simply no way of knowing how Palin will perform. The McCain campaign has observed her enough to have some confidence that she can pull off a rapid and unexpected transition to the national stage, but VP picks have come up as unqualified (Don Quayle) or weak campaigners (Lieberman) before.

All of this will come to a boil in the vice-presidential debate against Joe Biden. Will Palin look qualified enough? If she performs too poorly or Biden wins the night, will there be a backlash among female voters? Will Biden go from knowledgeable to mean? Will Palin exceed expectations, or will she have too many mistakes to pass the test? Will any of this even matter?

There are a lot of question marks surrounding the Palin pick, much more than they were with Joe Biden, much more than they would have been with Romney or Pawlenty. That is a big risk for McCain to take. But this year, with this electoral map and the electorate’s mood, a big risk is what McCain needed.

With week-long teases, McCain stays in spotlight [Updated with latest ad]

You’ve got to hand it to the McCain campaign: They have been very efficient at staying in the media spotlight in a week that was supposed to belong to Barack Obama.

Their favorite weapon has predictably been the veepstake tease. We have long known that John McCain would announce his pick the Friday following Obama’s acceptance speech (tomorrow) - and the campaign has been brilliantly played its hand throughout this past week to keep the press occupied covering Republicans and the McCain campaign. And in this Thursday afternoon, the tease and slow hints are continuing to come.

For days now, the Joe Lieberman saga has kept reporters on their toes. The Lieberman pick would justifiably be considered an unconventional gamble, and that possibility is understandably generating more stories than McCain would have received if only the names of Romney or Pawlenty were floated - how would conservatives react? what would it mean to moderates? to Democratic activists? The story gained in dramatic value last night, when it was revealed that Karl Rove had contacted Joe Lieberman to ask him to withdraw his name from consideration.

The conservative blogosphere is in a frenzy (just as liberal activists would have been livid if Chuck Hagel or Dick Lugar’s names had been in the very short list in the final hours of VP speculation), pointing out that Lieberman remains closer to Democrats on issues other than the war. For instance, The Hill quotes Chris Dodd today who points out that Lieberman has donated more than $200,000 to the DSCC over the past two years.

Besides the Lieberman rumors, the last minute speculations are parallel to the VP madness we experienced last week. The Bayh/Kaine/Biden trio has been replaced with the Lieberman/Romney/Pawlenty one, with people invoking tea leaves left and right that would seem to indicate that one of those three is the pick. Instead of Biden’s Georgia trip and the Obama/Bayh signs being printed in Nashville, we now have reports that Romney’s sister house has been subjected to a Secret Service sweep or the news that Pawlenty has canceled all his interviews today and tomorrow. And just like Chet Edwards’s last minute appearance in the Democratic veepstakes, we have a list of dark horses whose names is popping up, starting with Texas Senator Kay Hutchinson or even Meg Whitman and Sarah Palin. Even Tom Ridge is back in speculation.

In fact, McCain is now upping the stakes by threatening to steal some of the attention away from Denver by leaking the news of his pick in the coming hours. With a rally planned tomorrow at 11am in Dayton, Ohio, it is as inescapable that McCain’s pick leaks sometime tonight. After all, CNN managed to break the Biden story last week 12 hours before the Democratic ticket’s first appearance. But if the GOP were to leak the information before Obama’s acceptance speech tonight (as Drudge is now trumpeting they will), it would make for a split-screen night on cable shows and split front-page headlines in tomorrow’s papers.

This strategy would have obvious advantages and drawbacks for the GOP. On the one hand, they would distract from Obama’s speech; on the other, they would give up on the breathless coverage that accompanied the Democrats’ veep roll-out last week, putting the story on the back-page of tomorrow’s papers and making it old news by tomorrow. Overall, the risk seem to outweigh the benefits, as Obama’s speech will get covered no matter what and as viewers will tune in at 10pm to listen to him no matter what. Also, Obama would be able to insert a few sentences about McCain’s pick, introducing him to voters before the GOP has a chance to do so.

Of course, McCain has been using other means (again, very effectively) to get some of the spotlight. Practically every day since Obama announced he was picking Joe Biden, the Republican’s campaign has released ads meant to attract attention and influence the coverage. But it was soon obvious that none of these ads had any money put behind them. I myself posted an entire post on the three ads McCain released to drive a wedge between Obama and Clinton, though I did not evoke the others ads his campaign unveiled since they were essentially video press releases.

Yesterday came a particularly vicious spot, accusing Obama of minimizing the threat posed by Iran and thus abandoning Israel by having called Iran a “tiny” country (the quote the ad was referring to was in fact a comparative statement in which Obama said Iran was tiny in comparison to the Soviet Union). That ad coincided with the Democrats’ national security night - just as the Clinton ads coincided with the part of the convention that was meant to highlight party unity. Today, however, it looks like the McCain campaign might have an actual ad buy planned, as Politico’s Mike Allen reports that the campaign will air an ad in battleground states at the time of Obama’s pick in which McCain would speak to the camera, directly talking to Obama.

This morning, a McCain spokesperson tried to make the ad as much of an event as tonight’s speech by calling it “historic” and “first of its kind” - the type of description that is being reserved for Obama’s nomination and his first address as the party’s nominee tonight. It might seem over-the-top, but it has worked for Republicans for much of the past week.

Update: Well, the “historic” ad is here. The campaign has said this will air in battleground state around the time of Obama’s speech, though the exact size of the buy remains unclear. After more than a month of head-on character attacks and after a week in which he accused Obama of being “dangerously” inexperienced, McCain seems to think it important to “congratulate” Obama for his nomination in an ad meant to reclaim the higher ground and restore McCain’s image as a positive campaigner (a series of polls have shown that the electorate thinks McCain has gone more negative than Obama):


“How perfect that the nomination would come on this historic day,” says McCain in a reference to the anniversary of MLK’s “I have a dream” speech. Given the GOP spin that Obama is arrogant and behaving like an “emperor” (in Pawlently’s words), you be the judge as to whether that sentence is meant to be sarcastic - but that ambivalence might be the point, amusing partisan Republicans who might see it as derision while also appealing to independents.

VP Watch: Wild speculation, but very few answers

As you have surely noticed, I have been staying away from this final stretch of veepstake speculation because these last few days have generated an incredible amount of wild speculation - a lot of which are impossible to verify. So here’s an attempt at separating some elements of fact from the growingly hysterical buzz.

When: Obama has to make some sort of announcement in the coming days, and the text message announcement could come at any moment. What now looks fairly certain is that Obama will appear with his vice-presidential pick in Springfield, IL this Saturday, meaning that the choice will be announced some time before then - most probably from Thursday morning to Friday night.

As for McCain, the timing became much less suspensful when McCain did not make any announcement last week, as the only slot he had left was August 29th. Politico confirmed yesterday that the McCain campaign was organizing a large-scale rally in Dayton, OH on that Friday (the day after the Democratic convention), an event at which the Senator will appear with his own pick.

The Democratic short list: Bayh, Biden, Kaine. Biden, Kaine, Bayh. Kaine, Biden, Bayh. The top-tier has been known for weeks, but no new information that has come out in the past week has allowed us to find out who is about to get the nod. (1) Mark Warner becoming the keynote speaker was taken as a sign that Kaine would not be the pick, but Obama might very well be planning a Virginia-centric convention. (2) Joe Biden traveled to Georgia not because Obama sent him there but because the Georgian President invited him. And his telling the press “I’m not the guy” sparked so much talk that “it might not be Biden” after all that Biden “walked it back” Tuesday night.

(3) Was the mounting speculation surrounding Bayh last week a trial balloon? If it was, many progressives tried their best to pop it, but is that what Obama was hoping would happen (if he wants to go to the center) or what he feared? What about Bloomberg story that Bayh could be out because of his wife’s seats on corporate boards? The Obama campaign surely already knew about that and if Bayh was still in the running after being vetted it is surely after the campaign had already thought that through.

And what about other contenders? We have had some hard information pointing towards Hillary Clinton not being the VP pick (even though that is far from certain, and Ralph Nader is betting it will be), what about Nunn and Sebelius? Why have they dropped out of the top-tier? It might very well be because there is no buzz around them, but there is no hard information pointing towards Sebelius not being on Obama’s short list. She is still not responding to questions, Obama still speaks highly of her and we are pretty sure she was being vetted. Same with Reed, Richardson, and Dodd.

In other words, it is still anyone’s game - though there is no question that the conventional wisdom appears to have settled on Joe Biden just as it settled on Tim Kaine three weeks ago and Evan Bayh before Obama went on his Hawaii break. Howard Fineman is reporting that Biden is the favorite, and Intrade and Hillary’s alums apparently agree. That might very well be because Biden looks like the most obvious choice on paper - especially since Webb and Strickland took themselves out of the running. And it is true that Obama is more unlikely to pick a completely unexpected pick - say a Schweitzer or a Hagel - with only days to go until the convention and a time he has a consistent but very narrow lead. That’s a position that leads one to caution.

The pro-choice trial balloon: The discussion in the GOP veepstakes has almost entirely centered on the possibility of a pro-choice VP pick over the past few days. McCain himself said he was open to the idea last week, and the resulting outcry led people to conclude that the trial balloon had been popped for good. But last night, the speculation started over as the National Review reported that Republican officials were being contacted and asked about such a possibility. The result has been a firestorm of rumors: NR launched its anti-Ridge lobbying, and the Page is now saying that Ridge is out. That would still leave us with Joe Lieberman - a pick that is generating a lot of buzz but that is so bizarre that it is difficult for me to assess what effect that might have on the race.

So bluff or serious vetting? Trial balloon or true short list? There is simply no way of knowing, as every argument has its inverse. It makes perfect sense for McCain to float the possibility of a pro-choice pick like Lieberman and Ridge even if he ends up selecting someone else. It makes him look moderate and willing to consider figures whom the electorate thinks of as centrist. It also could make conservatives relieved with whatever pro-lifer they get, even if it’s someone like Romney or Crist whom they have had disagreements with (this is very much the same situation as the Democratic veepstakes, where Biden or Kaine, both moderates, could be viewed as a relief by progressives compared to Nunn, Hagel or Bayh).

On the other hand, we do know that McCain would want to pick someone like Lieberman if there was no political drawback and that choosing an unconventional choice like Lieberman or Ridge would make sense (at least on paper), for it would bolster McCain’s “maverick” theme, allow him to double-up on experience and on national security - two areas he has put at the center of his attacks against Obama. The McCain campaign might also be thinking that Rush Limbaugh’s outrage at the thought of a pro-choice ticket sounds like the anti-McCain statements he and other conservative activists made earlier this year, in other words not taking the threats of an unenthusiastic base that seriously.

Here again, it is anyone’s game - and it is especially difficult to say what McCain is thinking because his campaign’s thinking will most probably be influenced by Obama’s choice and even by the tone of the Democratic convention. Will the election be waged on experience, on national security, on domestic issues, on an age contrast? How charismatic will the Democrats’ VP pick be, how knowledgeable, how popular, how moderate? McCain will know the answer to those questions by the time he makes his choice public.

Most recent VP headlines:

  • August 8th: When the veepstakes start to get a little old
  • August 3rd: Speculation on timing and a new name in the GOP veepstakes
  • July 29th: Kaine rising and Clinton fading
  • July 27th: Veepstakes are entering their last stretch

VP Watch: When the veepstake game starts to get a little old

The convention starts on August 25th - two days after the Olympics, and the Monday after next - making it very likely (if not certain) that Obama’s pick will be announced early next week. But the veepstakes have drawn on for so long now that the speculation game is starting to get a bit old. In fact, we are even starting to get actual hints as to whom the candidates might pick - especially on the Democratic side!

For one, John Edwards disappeared from the list of potential Obama picks last week - and was followed today (albeit in very different circumstances) by Mark Warner. The former Virginia Governor was not considered to be part of the top-tier since he is running for Senate, but Marc Ambinder reported today that Warner was very seriously considered by Obama’s team and that they insisted that he submit vetting documents - something Warner resisted, joining Ted Strickland and Jim Webb on the list of high-profile Democrats who ruled themselves out.

Warner’s selection as the keynote speaker has led many to speculate that Tim Kaine’s standing has decreased under the theory that Obama will not want to have that Virginia-heavy a convention. (While Warner will probably not have the Tuesday primetime slot, a Kaine pick would mean that two of the three important Tuesday-Wednesday speeches would come from Virginians.) But I am not so sure of that: Obama is really committed to VA, and understandably so given that it is difficult to imagine Obama losing the election if he wins this state. If a Warner and Kaine double-header could move some numbers, why would Democrats not go there? And the news that Obama vetters were looking into picking Warner confirms how interested they are in the Old Dominion and makes Kaine an obvious replacement.

Two other hints have emerged from the convention chatter. First, Wednesday - the day the VP will pick - will be devoted to security themes, which many are taking as a sign that the VP will be someone with strong national security credentials (Reed, Biden, Nunn rather than Kaine, Sebelius). The second hint is the release of the names of Tuesday speakers, the argument being that the names that are being scheduled in on Tuesday are not being considered as potential vice-presidents. Besides Hillary Clinton and Warner, the names include: Kathleen Sebelius, Brian Schweitzer, Janet Napolitano, Ed Rendell. It does not include Tim Kaine, Joe Biden, Evan Bayh, Wesley Clark and Chet Edwards.

None of this, of course, is particularly convincing. It cannot be that difficult for convention planners to replace Sebelius in the Tuesday line-up if she is tapped as VP. But these convention hints are as tangible objects of speculation as we have had throughout the veepstakes. Note that Bayh has been attracting some negative attention over the past few days and that his stock might be plummeting. The New York Times’s article on Bayh’s VP prospects highlighted his involvement in the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which he co-chaired with John McCain and Joe Lieberman. And a group of liberal bloggers are organizing on Facebook to protest a potential Bayh pick.

More importantly, I noted this morning that Obama’s latest ad would not be running in Indiana and Georgia, two red states Obama usually targets - suggesting that his campaign was no longer looking at the state as a key battleground and thus perhaps no longer considering Bayh as a potential VP pick (the same argument could be made about Sam Nunn and Georgia). Only Joe Biden’s stock seems to be unaffected by all these hints.

As for Republicans, McCain has a bit more time than his opponent and his choice might be informed by Obama’s. But that does not mean that we are not getting hints about the GOP veepstakes. For one, Rob Portman - who many included in McCain’s short list - said that he is not being vetted. If true, that would shrink the number of top-tier GOPers even further and would be somewhat of a surprise given how much his name has been floated over the past few months.

Second, some names that had previously been dismissed because they were not deemed conservative enough are back in the chatter. McCain told the Weekly Standard today that Tom Ridge is not disqualified by his pro-choice views - bringing up the name of the former Pennsylvania Governor voluntarily: “Tom Ridge is one of the great leaders and he happens to be pro-choice. And I don’t think that that would necessarily rule Tom Ridge out.” He compared Ridge’s chances to those of Mike Bloomberg in terms that appear to strike down the possibility that McCain pick the New York Mayor: “Bloomberg is pro-gay rights, pro, you know, a number of other issues.”

The other name that is coming up again these days is Joe Lieberman. The Connecticut Senator has always been mentioned as a potential pick - and one McCain would love to make - but one that he might not dare to. Lieberman is too liberal on a number of issues for that choice to go well with conservative activists, after all. But Lieberman is becoming an increasingly vocal critic of Obama - making noise yesterday for suggesting that he does not put his country first - and McCain said today that he would send Lieberman (and Lindsay Graham) off to Georgia.

That gets us to the following exhaustive list of everyone who could conceivably end on the tickets. The top-tier at this point is reserved for those names that are fully expected; the second-tier for names that have been discussed at length over the past few weeks but that have faded a bit in the final stretch; and the long shots are names that have been mentioned but that would be very unexpected. For Republicans:

  • Top-tier: Crist, Pawlenty, Romney
  • Second-tier: Fiorina, Jindal, Lieberman, Palin, Portman, Ridge, Sanford, Thune, Whitman
  • Long shots: Bloomberg, Cantor, Cox, Graham, Huckabee, Hutchinson, Kasich, Perdue, Fred Smith, Snow

And for Democrats:

  • Top-tier: Biden, Kaine, Bayh
  • Second-tier: Clark, Clinton, Dashle, Dodd, Chet Edwards, Hagel, Nunn, Reed, Richardson, Sebelius (the latter is hovering between the first and second tiers)
  • Long shots: Bloomberg, Casey, Jones, McCaskill, Napolitano, Bill Nelson, Rendell, Schweitzer, Veneman

Most recent VP headlines:

  • August 3rd: Speculation on timing and a new name in the GOP veepstakes
  • July 29th: Kaine rising and Clinton fading
  • July 27th: Veepstakes are entering their last stretch

VP Watch: Timing speculation and a new name in GOP veepstakes

We are now five days from the Olympics’ opening ceremony, and still no sign from either of the presidential campaigns that they are ready to announce their vice-presidential picks. If they do not announce their running-mate in the next 48 to 72 hours, they will have to wait for the Olympics’ hype to decrease a bit before any announcement.

That would mean that both campaigns would have voluntarily given up a chance to roll out their vice-presidential nominees at a time they would easily grab all the headlines and own the news cycle and both would set themselves up for complicated PR maneuvers if they want to get significant media coverage. The Obama campaign would be forced to announce its pick during the Olympics (the Democratic convention starts soon after the closing ceremony) and the McCain campaign would have to announce either during the Olympics or the day after Obama’s acceptance speech - in both cases forcing them to compete with other major story lines.

Announcing in the next two days could be especially helpful for the Obama campaign. For the first time of the general election campaign, they lost control of their message last week and were on the defensive. Racial issues are now moving to the front of the political conversation - and everyday that happens is a potential disaster for Obama. The vice-presidential pick could allow Democrats to take back control of the campaign narrative, move on from the distractions of the past week (the German troop visit, the celebrity ad, the race card) and own the week leading up to the Olympics.

Yet, the campaign doesn’t seem as ready to make its pick as we assumed last week, when speculation was mounting that both campaigns were reaching the final stages of their decision-making processes and that the Obama campaign had narrowed its list to a few names, including Virginia Governor Tim Kaine. Now, The Washington Post reports that Obama’s vetting process might not be as advanced as we previously thought and that Obama’s much-publicized three hour meetings with his vetting staff was not meant to come to a final decision, and that the list Obama is playing with is longer than thought.

In other words, it is not yet down to Kaine, Evan Bayh, Kathleen Sebelius and Joe Biden - other names are still in the running. If anything, Kaine might have hurt his chances last week by allowing as many leaks as he did. (One name that does not appear to be making it to the final round is Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill. She had already said last week that she was not being vetted by the campaign - and she repeated that again today.)

On the Republican side, the veepstakes have always centered on a shorter list of names though speculation reached feverish pitch last week - though we still haven’t gotten a decision. Often mentioned, Bobby Jindal’s youth has long made him an unlikely pick - how could McCain attack Obama’s inexperience if he deems Jindal to be qualified enough? Now, conservative activists are organizing a push to convince the McCain campaign to make Jindal the keynote speaker at the GOP convention. That this is now the focus of many on the Right confirms that Jindal is no longer in the veepstakes’ top-tier and that floating his name might have been a way for the campaign to win the good will of conservatives. It also confirms that Jindal is a name we will hear again in the coming years and most probably in a future presidential election.

Meanwhile, a new name appeared this week in the Republican veepstakes: Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, the third-in-command in the GOP’s House caucus and a prominent Jewish Republican. Politico reported that Cantor was being vetted and had submitted documents to the McCain campaign. This is the kind of veepstakes news of which it is very difficult to know what to make. Cantor has a very conservative profile, and right-wing blogs like Red State were clearly excited about his inclusion. So is McCain seriously considering picking Cantor, or has his name been leaked to the media in the last stages of the veepstakes to reassure conservatives that their wishes are under consideration and that one of their own made it very far?

This is not just an empty reassurance, after all. Even if someone is not picked after making it to the short list, his national profile is increased to such a degree that he or she is certain to play a prominent role in future election years. That Jindal was played up so much by the McCain campaign is now giving him a shot at the keynote spot and places him as a key player in conservative circles. This speculation could do the same for Cantor. Even if McCain selects a vice-president towards which conservatives are less sympathetic - Charlie Crist, even Tim Pawlenty or Mitt Romney - they could still be grateful that McCain raised the profile of Republicans they like.

This is not to say that Cantor could not be actually selected. In fact, John McCain could be better served choosing a running-mate that was not expected and that could provide some energy to his campaign. Pawlenty and Romney might be great fits for McCain in other presidential years, but this year the Senator is playing catch-up and might be better served picking someone like Cantor, who could energize the base while also giving McCain an opportunity to make some major inroads in the Jewish community - especially now that Florida is back in the toss-up column.

Most recent VP headlines:

VP watch: Speculation rises about Obama’s short list, with Kaine rising and Clinton fading

The Olympics are approaching and the veepstakes speculation is reaching feverish pitch. That is somewhat paradoxical as some indicators over the past two days have been suggesting that both candidates are considering waiting a bit more to announce their picks after all and try to break through during the Olympics.

There is of course a clear risk to doing so: Any high-profile announcement could be drowned by news from China. But postponing the decision also makes sense for both candidates: Obama is planning on taking a week long break in Hawaii. Announcing his vice-presidential pick just before he departs would allow his running-mate to take center stage for a few day. As for McCain, he would be giving up a key weapon (more control of timing) if he were to hurry into a choice.

That said, other indicators suggest that Obama and McCain are very near to making a choice and that they have significantly narrowed their list. Sources in the McCain world have long been saying that the campaign has already completed a lot of its vetting and McCain has all the information to make up its mind whenever he wants. Yesterday, Obama met with most of his advisers and with his vetting team for more than 3 hours - quite an extended period of time to take off the campaign trail if it is not intended to resolve a number of issues and get closer to a decision.

More detailed speculation over the past 48 hours has concentrated on the Democratic side and on Virginia Governor Tim Kaine. Not one but two articles were published in the past 24 hours - one yesterday afternoon in Politico and one this morning in the Washington Post - that described Kaine as being “very, very, very high on Obama’s short list” based on numerous interviews with people close to Obama’s campaign and members of Kaine’s entourage. Both Politico and The Post are well-sourced and well-connected and that they would both publish such an article within hours of each other speaks to the sure fact that Kaine is one of the finalists.

This morning, both Obama and Kaine were in Washington DC, prompting speculation that a meeting had been organized between the two Democrats. (Think about that: Obama had a three hour VP meeting yesterday and might have met with one of his top choices less than a day later.) Kaine was one of the earliest Obama endorsers, and did so long before Obama had really broken through in his match-up against Hillary Clinton. Kaine and Obama are not only personally close, but Kaine embodies as close to post-partisanship a management style as Obama could want.

However, both articles make it clear that Kaine’s being subjected to intense vetting means he has reached the final stages of the veepstakes, not that he is the only one there. While Politico has a few sources in hte Obama world, most of these leaks are coming from the Kaine camp, which explains why the stories are so fixated on one name. In fact, Marc Ambinder thinks that the outstanding level of buzz generated by leaks from the Kaine entourage are hurting the Virginia Governor compared to other contenders that aren’t leaking information. Politico’s report cites Joe Biden, Kathleen Sebelius and Sam Nunn; Marc Ambinder is hearing the most buzz about Kaine, Biden, Sebelius and Evan Bayh. This testifies to the stamp Obama wants to leave on the party, as all these names but Biden’s embody a similar post-partisanship positioning.

Of the top-tier of Democratic contenders, two names are missing in this latest round of speculation: Chris Dodd and Hillary Clinton. In fact, Clinton’s star is decidedly fading. It was always clear that Obama did not want to pick his former rival and that he would only do so if polls indicated he had not succeeded in capturing Clinton’s electorate. While he does still have some trouble securing the Democratic base and there are still signs of discontent between the two camps, the problems do not seem to be wide-ranging enough for Obama to be forced to do something he does not want to do.

Declarations made by Terry McAuliffe (as faithful a Clinton supporter as any) in recent days seemed to confirm that Clinton was not at the top of Obama’s list: McAuliffe declared Kaine would be his pick for VP and he suggested Clinton was planning on speaking Tuesday night at the convention - a day earlier than the running-mate will. The New York Times’s Adam Nagourney hardened the conventional wisdom yesterday with an article detailing the “mounting evidence” that Clinton is not being seriously considered by the Obama campaign.

In fact, the Obama campaign might need to prepare itself to not enjoy a bounce when it selects the Democratic nominee if he/she is not Hillary. Once Clinton supporters realize that their former champion will not be on the ballot, a small number might temporarily withdraw its support for Obama in anger. I am not suggesting that this would be a lasting move or that Obama stands to , but that the temporary effects of the first impression (which is what a bounce is, after all) might be less positive than they would otherwise be because of this.

On the Republican side, the conventional wisdom is still fixated on a two-way race between Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty and . That has been the consensus for many weeks now, and John Thune’s declaring a few days ago that he had not been asked to submit vetting documents shrunk the number of Republicans capable of contesting that even further (if Thune is telling the truth, that is). Over the past 48 hours, Pawlenty has gotten a lot more favorable press while Romney was hit this morning by a Washington Times article reiterating that a number of evangelicals are warning against a McCain-Romney ticket.

Of course, we already know that a Romney pick could lead many conservatives to grumble, but that is not a welcome reminder at this crucial time in the veepstakes. In fact, campaigns routinely float trial names around to see the type of reception it will get and how interest groups will react; the strongly negative reactions sparked by Ann Veneman’s name circulating, for instance, are bound to have an effect. In fact, a new name was just added to the Republican veepstakes: Fed Ex executive Fred Smith, whose name started circulating yesterday with odd timing. The perfect example of a trial balloon?

I dropped three names from the top-tier since yesterday (Thune, Edwards and Clinton) and added to the long-shot list. That gets us to the following new exhaustive list for Republicans:

  • Top-tier: Crist, Portman, Pawlenty, Romney
  • Second-tier: Fiorina, Jindal, Palin, Ridge, Sanford, Thune, Whitman
  • Long shots: Bloomberg, Cantor, Cox, Graham, Huckabee, Hutchinson, Kasich, Lieberman, Perdue, Fred Smith, Snowe

And for Democrats:

  • Top-tier: Bayh, Biden, Dodd, Kaine, Nunn, Reed, Sebelius
  • Second-tier: Casey, Clark, Clinton, Dashle, Chet Edwards, John Edwards, Hagel, Rendell, Richardson,
  • Long shots: Bloomberg, Jones, McCaskill, Napolitano, Bill Nelson, Schweitzer, Veneman, Warner

Most recent VP headlines:

  • July 27th: Veepstakes are entering their last stretch
  • July 18th: Is Chet Edwards joining the top-tier, and who is McCain vetting?
  • July 11th: A pointer on the Democratic veeptakes
  • July 7th double-shocker: Webb’s stunning exit and Crist’s marriage
  • All coverage for Democrats and Republicans

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