The Note: Base Instincts

Everyone wants their convention to be a party that showcases one big happy family -- but which side looks ready to nab most-likely-to-be-dysfunctional honors?

(Wait before you answer that, at least until the running mates are chosen.)

As we still wait for that text message (still no leaks -- remarkable), the best-laid plans of both campaigns threaten to overshadow their big weeks. Two candidates who define themselves by reaching into the middle are seeing trouble spots emerge inside their bases.

Sen. John McCain has loaded his convention lineup with a fantasy team of "pro-choice" all-stars: Rudy and Arnold and Joe Lieberman -- not your father's GOP (unless your father is George H.W. Bush, we suppose). (What's a delegate to think when a platform is a handy scorecard chronicling featured speakers' disagreements with dogma?)

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Sen. Barack Obama has seen his convention stuffed with enough Clinton drama to provide a tasty Denver buffet. (And those persistent "dream" ticket rumors -- if there's no there there, how does it bode for catharsis?)

Then there's the concerns of a suddenly very worried Democratic Party. As for why: It's an identical Obama 45, McCain 42 spread in the new Wall Street Journal/NBC and New York Times/CBS polls.

"Sen. John McCain has all but closed the gap with Sen. Barack Obama, underscoring how international crises -- and some well-placed negative ads -- have boosted the prospects of the Republican presidential candidate," Laura Meckler writes in The Wall Street Journal.

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Clinton alert: "Only half of those who voted for Sen. Clinton in the primaries say they are now supporting Sen. Obama. One in five is supporting Sen. McCain."

Can a convention do all this? "Slim majorities said neither candidate had made clear what he would do as president, suggesting that both need to use their conventions to provide voters with a better sense of their plans for addressing the deteriorating economy, high energy prices, access to health care and national security," Michael Cooper and Dalia Sussman write in The New York Times.

This is a feat: "Nearly half of those surveyed said that they expected [McCain] to continue the Bush administration's policies if he were elected president. But voters, by a wide margin, view Mr. McCain as better prepared to be president than Mr. Obama, and as more likely to be an effective commander in chief."

Feel the angst growing? "It's not panic time -- yet -- but some Democrats watching Barack Obama say his campaign should have gotten a wake-up call this week, not only from his appearance alongside John McCain at the Saddleback Church but from a major poll suggesting he no longer leads his GOP opponent," Carla Marinucci writes in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Obama wants Democrats to calm down a bit: "I don't think that's just about me. I think they are congenitally nervous because we lost a bunch of presidential elections where people felt that we should have won," Obama, D-Ill., tells Time's Karen Tumulty and David Von Drehle.

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