Dayton Game: McCain Retakes Spotlight After Obama's Big Night

Now that we know Sen. Barack Obama is going to fight for this thing, we're about to see why he'll need to.

No rest for the weary leaving Denver for St. Paul: It was Obama's night on Thursday, but as the confetti wafts down the mountain, Friday is Sen. John McCain's day -- since he'll have someone to share it with, at last.

The birthday boy puts his veep out at a joint rally in Dayton, Ohio -- and, wow, is it a surprise: Gov. Sarah Palin, the lifelong NRA gun backer, abortion rights opposing, first term leader of the Last Frontier, is McCain's pick.

The process-of-elimination/obfuscation games were in full force: Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., called it a "fair assumption" that he wasn't it, since he isn't going to Dayton on Friday: "It was an honor to be considered," he told a local radio station.

He got the formal call from McCain Friday morning -- told he was not going to be the selection, per ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg.

Fox News' Carl Cameron reports that former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., is in Boston Friday and won't be in Dayton -- and isn't the pick. ABC's George Stephanopoulos confirms that Romney is not in Ohio on Friday -- and a source tells Jan Crawford Greenburg that Romney hasn't been chosen.

No Huckster, either: "There are reports that I'm on my way to Dayton tonight. Not true," former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., wrote late Thursday in a message to supporters. "Wasn't invited to be there and any reports that I'm going to be there are a big surprise to me. I have never been contacted by the McCain campaign at any point about the VP slot."

Conservatives can breathe a sigh of relief -- McCain didn't counter a regular Joe with a regular Joe: "Says a GOP operative who informally advises the campaign: 'All I can tell you is this: if Lieberman is picked, the dome of the convention hall will blow off. There will be a mushroom cloud,' " Time's Jay Carney reports.

"Picking Mr. Lieberman, 66, would roil the Republican base and risk a revolt by conservatives at next week's convention, but it would mark a distinct shift to the political center," Russell Berman writes in the New York Sun. "Republicans last night also left the door open for a surprise pick, including a Texas senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, or a former chief executive of eBay, Meg Whitman."

Word didn't leak overnight, and that gave Obama a few extra hours in the limelight -- and that's all he's going to get. (Was all the speculation that the name might emerge enough to distract from Obama's message just enough?)

Thursday -- and the week leading up to it -- belonged to Obama: His convention had a storyline, and Democrats told it through the end. His feud with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton a seemingly distant memory, he took the fight to McCain -- and offered himself up as a vehicle for change that means something.

He won't get another chance like this to define himself, and this was just what Denver ordered: "Barack Obama's speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday night was what many nervous Democrats were hoping for: a forceful challenge to John McCain and the Republicans, and a restatement of the message to change Washington and the nation that propelled him to the nomination," Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post.

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