Head Winds: Palin a Hit With the Base, but Outside Pressures Leave Clouds Over RNC

Weather or not, the list of no-shows grows. It's not just Larry Craig and Chuck Hagel and Gov. Schwarzenegger and Gulf Coasters; for many in tough races, there are better things to do. "At least 10 incumbent senators, plus several Senate candidates, have sent their regrets. Only three incumbents in hotly contested races, including Kentucky's Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, will join the partygoers," Bob Drogin writes in the Los Angeles Times.

The scene would have been grim enough without the clouds: "Republicans assembling in the Twin Cities are faced with a sobering reality check: The GOP has never confronted such steep political odds in modern times," Carla Marinucci writes in the San Francisco Chronicle. "With the popularity of President Bush in the cellar, issues like the war in Iraq and gas prices, and 'change' becoming the watchword of the election season, the GOP is counting on McCain to come through on what many political observers say may be Mission Impossible in 2008 -- keeping control of the White House."

To that end: Palin has the base jazzed -- but has complicated the McCain storyline. (And did she really get the job after a grand total of two meetings? Isn't it harder to become an assistant manager at Target?)

"McCain risks ceding the most effective argument he and fellow Republicans have made against Obama," Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post. "For months, Republicans have attacked the senator from Illinois as not ready to be president. Now McCain has put someone who Democrats argue has even less experience one election and a heartbeat away from the presidency."

Peter Baker, in The New York Times: "The selection of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska proved quintessentially McCain -- daring, hazardous and defiantly off-message. He demonstrated that he would not get boxed in by convention as he sought to put a woman next in line to the presidency for the first time. Yet in making such an unabashed bid for supporters of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, he risked undercutting his central case against Senator Barack Obama."

And the battle to define Palin has just begun -- on terms the McCain campaign can't control: Politico's John F. Harris points out that journalists wouldn't be probing the backgrounds of a Mitt Romney or a Tim Pawlenty with equal vigor.

"Over the next 72 hours, whether she becomes a new star of the GOP or an albatross will be determined in large part by a wave of second- and third-day news coverage about McCain's unexpected running mate," Harris writes. "Naturally, there will be the usual articles about her record in passing bills in Alaska and her positions on certain hot-button issues. But the inquiries that have the most potential to explode will delve into more sensitive terrain."

A family feud could be the little story that grows into the big one: "The investigation is focusing on whether she and her aides pressured and ultimately fired the public safety commissioner, Walter Monegan, for not removing Palin's ex-brother-in-law from the state police force," James V. Grimaldi and Kimberly Kindy write in The Washington Post. "Interviews with principals involved in the dispute and a review of court documents and police internal affairs reports reveal that Palin has been deeply involved in alerting state officials to her family's personal turmoil."

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