August 29, 2008
McCain announced Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska, as his VP selection today. Its a gamechanging pick. Its definitely an offensive move. The McCain camp seems to be gaining strategic and execution heft as November approaches, while the Obama campaign seems to be losing its bite. First impressions:
Palin's resume is a bit thin too, but even so, its a contrasting thinness to Obama and to Biden, consisting of executive experience, some of it admittedly lightweight as a springboard for national office, such as mayoral service of her hometown of 8,000.
Palin is a woman, and Biden may be hampered in getting off a hard hitting attack on her. He'll have to finesse the attack dog routine, which he seems ill suited for, while Palin does not appear to be the type who pulls punches. Biden will need to get after her, but her status as a woman may give her some cover by forcing him to frame his attacks carefully to avoid charges of sexism.
McCain has had to fight an uphill battle on the enthusiasm gap, but Palin as a dark horse candidate and a history making one for the republican party may be just what the doctor ordered to inject some energy into the campaign.
Palin does not stomp all over McCain's core message of maverick and commitment to reform, quite the contrary, she reinforces it. This in contrast to Obama, who's pick of Biden now looks even more decidedly like a defensive shoring up of his foreign policy chops, which actually is okay if it reassures voters. More damaging than that though by far, is Biden's status as a long time Washington insider. His presence on the ticket does not signal change. McCain is looking mavericky with this pick.
McCain's core messaging that Obama is not ready to lead is an established and solid line of attack that he is continuing to reinforce. Obama in contrast is off message. He has killed his change mantra, both by demphasizing it in the message and with the Biden pick, and his attack messages on McCain are not sharp enough, as he leavens them by constantly referencing McCain's military service before he levels an attack.
Until now, Obama's campaign was the sexiest. It had more history making, more novelty, more newness. No longer. McCain has now given his campaign a woman who appears to be capable of playing the role of attack dog. He now has a very good countervailing set of optics to Obama's team. His team has now become equally as interesting to watch. The McCain/Palin ticket is attractive. Obama is no longer the most interesting visual in the campaign. McCain now has a competing visual.
I suspect the Obama campaign has been doing oppo research mostly on McCain's other choices and I suspect the Palin pick will have caught them nearly flatfooted, though not entirely. Their political counter messaging is going to be critical once the convention is over. They have already signaled their line of attack with the campaigns first response, calling out Palin's thin resume, to which the republicans will respond that its certainly no thinner than Obama's and make the case that its better and you can spin it that way.
Palin has an abuse of power investigation ongoing in Alaska regarding her involvement in the firing of the public safety director for resisting firing her sister's ex-husband from his state trooper job. Frankly, given that several members of her staff including her chief of staff had contacts with the public saftey department specifically regarding the trooper, I find it hard to believe all of those contacts occured without her knowledge or involvement. But you have to figure the McCain campaign spent some time vetting that issue and must have concluded that there was nothing there that could hurt them, so maybe there is a lot of smoke and no fire. We'll see.
Alaine's reaction is that this is a play to get women voters and certainly the disaffected Clintonistas and she calls it as a bonehead play. She thinks Palin is too light on experience and fundamentally, she's no Hillary Clinton in the minds of women voters and therefore this is a cynical ploy by the republicans that assumes women are stupid and most will be offended and turned off. It remains to be seen how she plays, particularly given that she is strongly pro-life, clearly representing an effort by McCain to consolidate the values voters behind him who view personnel as policy. He will clearly bring them home with this pick.
I don't think Obama/Biden as a team is good optical counter to this team. Given the opticals and messaging attack that McCain is now fielding, I think Obama/Biden have a challenge to try to effectively hit these political targets. The good news there is that they actually have in their arsenal two smart weapons that could be deployed to devastating effectiveness. The bad news? Those two smart weapons are Hillary and Bill Clinton.
Now comes the true test of democratic party unity. A combined political frontal assault by Obama, Biden, Bill and Hillary could clobber the McCain ticket. Thats more incoming fire than they can withstand I think. But I see nothing to indicate that Bill and Hillary will unload on the McCain ticket. Many have said Gore lost in part because he refused to deploy Bill Clinton. Obama may have a very similar problem here, but it may not be that he won't deploy Bill and Hillary, its that he can't, because they are not available or if they are, only at a very steep price.
This ticket is attractive. As a republican, I imagine we could do worse. I don't think the republican leadership of the last eight years deserves another four. McCain is trying to convince me that he is going to be different than the rest of his party. Palin reinforces that message. I remain in need of convincing. I'm mindful that when George Bush took office, George Will said it would be government by grownups. Thats not the way it played out. Maybe McCain will be different enough, but I'm not convinced yet to take a chance that I'm not going to get more of the same crap. At the same time, McCain is successfully sowing doubt and uncertainty as to how much real change I can expect Obama to deliver. Advantage McCain.
Palin is a game changer pick. McCain is playing for keeps. Obama must raise his game again. Can he do it? Did McCain actually make a bad call that won't play with women voters like he thinks? Who now holds the better hand?
McCain Makes a Gamechanging VP Pick in Sarah Palin