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

If the drama in Denver was contained squarely inside the Pepsi Center (only to be expelled into the mountain air with the confetti cannons at Invesco Field), the theater in St. Paul is feeling pressure that's building outside.

Between a hurricane problem and a football-schedule problem -- and a Ron Paul problem, an Arnold Schwarzenegger problem, a President Bush problem, not to mention a Dan Quayle problem and a Pat Buchanan problem -- Sen. John McCain's control over his own convention grows more limited by the hour.

(The funny thing is McCain may not care about that fact. Who better than a maverick to accept his party's nomination in a way that looks less than traditional?)

A senior White House official tells ABC's George Stephanopoulos that President Bush is almost certain to skip St. Paul. (And McCain surely doesn't care about that, either.)

Amid the somber mood and curtailed partying that is Hurricane Gustav's political wake even before the storm hits US soil, McCain's candidacy has more energy, but is also in more need of some redefinition, as he goes for broke with his vice-presidential pick. (Who's "dangerously inexperienced" now, pray tell?)

And here comes a bold start: McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin head to Mississippi on Sunday -- a visit designed more to remind voters of who they aren't more than of who they are.

The storm has the most potential to change the week's tone (and don't think Team McCain doesn't see the good side as well as the bad side of a few less parties and a few more ways to signal McCain's breaks with Bush).

McCain's visit is designed to make him what Bush wasn't -- though at the risk of a few stories tallying the police manpower soaked up by a political visit on the eve of a massive weather disruption.

Speaking of disruptions: "Republicans scrambled Saturday to make contingency plans for changing the tone of their national convention, worried that televised images of a lavish celebration would provide a jarring contrast to scenes of disaster and mass evacuations," Michael Abramowitz and Robert Barnes write in The Washington Post. "McCain advisers also said that the meticulously planned event may have to be radically altered if the storm begins to grow into a calamity like Katrina."

"It wouldn't be appropriate to have a festive occasion while a near tragedy or a terrible challenge is presented in the form of a natural disaster," McCain tells Fox News' Chris Wallace.

"If it looks like it's going to hit, we will, obviously, drastically change our plans," Cindy McCain tells ABC's George Stephanopoulos in an interview airing on "This Week" Sunday.

Per ABC News: "There is official business that is required to happen at the convention, like the actual nomination of John McCain and the platform ratification -- but [an official] added contingency plans are being considered regarding delegation travel and the program of speakers. . . . The Republican National Convention has set up a committee in Saint Paul to monitor Hurricane Gustav and evaluate its impact on the convention schedule."

Depending on how bad it is, "Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) may deliver his acceptance speech via satellite because of the historically huge hurricane threatening New Orleans, top officials said," per Politico's Mike Allen and Jonathan Martin.

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."

"Alaska's former commissioner of public safety claims that Gov. Sarah Palin, John McCain's pick to be vice president, personally talked to him on two occasions about a state trooper who was locked in a bitter custody battle with the governor's sister," Lisa Demer writes for The Anchorage Daily News. "In a phone conversation Friday night, Walt Monegan, who was Alaska's top cop until Palin fired him July 11, told The Anchorage Daily News that the governor also had e-mailed him two or three times about the trooper, Mike Wooten, though the e-mails didn't mention Wooten by name."

"Palin is likely to be deposed soon in the case, according to State Sen. Hollis French, who leads the state Senate's Legislative Counsel Committee," per ABC's Marcus Baram. "French's committee unanimously authorized an investigation into the dismissal of the state's public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, who claims he balked at pressure to remove Trooper Mike Wooten, who had an acrimonious divorce from Palin's sister."

The Democrats were as surprised as the rest of us: "The Obama campaign and the Democratic Party had prepared advertisements and lines of attacks directed at the two men who had been most prominently mentioned as vice-presidential possibilities for Mr. McCain, Mitt Romney and Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, but had not considered Ms. Palin a likely enough choice to do the same for her," Adam Nagourney, Jim Rutenberg, and Jeff Zeleny report in The New York Times.

"Mr. Obama's campaign does not plan to go directly after Ms. Palin in the days ahead," they report. "Instead, it is planning to increase its attacks on Mr. McCain for his opposition to pay equity legislation and abortion rights -- two issues of paramount concern to many women -- as it tries to head off his effort to use Ms. Palin to draw Democratic and independent women who had supported Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton."

The choice was about the brand: "McCain, the Republican Party's best- known maverick, allowed the names of many expected candidates to be raised -- only to be rejected -- to call attention to the fact that he wasn't following the usual political script," Peter Canellos writes in The Boston Globe.

Let's reignite everyone's favorite fight: "McCain's camp converted the glass ceiling into thin ice for the Obama campaign. They did it with a pick that almost dares Democrats to criticize Sarah Palin and risk charges of insensitivity or sexism," Newsday's Tom Brune and Nia-Malika Henderson write.

It's about the base: "By tapping the anti-abortion and pro-gun Alaska governor just ahead of his convention, which is set to start here Monday, McCain hasn't just won approval from a skeptical Republican base -- he's ignited a wave of elation and emotion that has led some grassroots activists to weep with joy," Politico's Jonathan Martin writes.

The Palin pick will go down as a "masterful stroke of genius by John McCain and his team," writes David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network. "For the most part, social conservatives and the Evangelical base are now about to come fully on board. Obama's enthusiasm gap has narrowed considerably."

"I would pull that lever," said James Dobson, no great fan of McCain, but now a fan of McCain-Palin.

One way to measure energy: "Sen. John McCain has taken in $7 million in contributions since announcing Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, a top campaign aide said today," per The Washington Post's Matthew Mosk. "The money bounce may owe to Palin's appeal with conservative donors, many of whom said privately they had planned on sitting out the campaign this year."

We've been here before: Palin's selection "represents a clear attempt to exploit a culture gap in the presidential race -- reviving a tactic that the Bush-Cheney team used to great effect in 2004," per ABC News.

Want proof that even Palin didn't know she was on any short lists? "I'm a mom, and my son is going to get deployed in September, and we better have a real clear plan for this war," Palin told The New Yorker's Philip Gourevitch just weeks ago. "And it better not have to do with oil and dependence on foreign energy."

Want proof that she needs to work on her talking points? "A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I'm not one though who would attribute it to being man-made," Palin told Newsmax for the conservative magazine's September issue.

Pat Buchanan remembers her all too well: Palin "was a brigader in 1996 as was her husband . . . they were at a fundraiser for me, she's a terrific gal, she's a rebel reformer," Buchanan told Chris Matthews.

Per ABC's Jake Tapper, the McCain campaign is pushing back. "Governor Palin has never worked for any effort to elect Pat Buchanan -- that assertion is completely false," says McCain spokesman Michael Goldfarb.

Will she fly? "The problem is that politics, like all professions, isn't as easy as it looks," Newsweek's Jonathan Alter writes. "Palin's odds of emerging unscathed this fall are slim. In fact, she's been all but set up for failure."

Maureen Dowd: "The movie ends with the former beauty queen shaking out her pinned-up hair, taking off her glasses, slipping on ruby red peep-toe platform heels that reveal a pink French-style pedicure, and facing down Vladimir Putin in an island in the Bering Strait. Putting away her breast pump, she points her rifle and informs him frostily that she has some expertise in Russia because it's close to Alaska."

Unless: "A spectre is haunting the liberal elites of New York and Washington -- the spectre of a young, attractive, unapologetic conservatism, rising out of the American countryside, free of the taint (fair or unfair) of the Bush administration and the recent Republican Congress, able to invigorate a McCain administration and to govern beyond it," Bill Kristol writes in The Weekly Standard.

Not a great comparison: "Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin faces a getting-to-know-you process as the Republican vice presidential candidate, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds: Most Americans say they've never heard of her," USA Today's Susan Page writes.

"There is also wide uncertainty about whether she's qualified to be president. In the poll, taken Friday, 39% say she is ready to serve as president if needed, 33% say she isn't and 29% have no opinion. That's the lowest vote of confidence in a running mate since the elder George Bush chose then-Indiana senator Dan Quayle to join his ticket in 1988. In comparison, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden was seen as qualified by 57%-18% after Democrat Barack Obama chose him as a running mate last week."

"Inexplicably he's chosen somebody who has no experience," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., tells Tammy Haddad in a "TamCam" segment. "It's worse than a Dan Quayle pick."

Among your themes for the week: McCain feels your pain. "As he prepares to accept his party's nomination for president in Minnesota this week, Sen. John McCain insists he understands the economic anxieties Americans face, despite his own family's wealth and attempts by Democrats to portray him as out of touch," Jill Zuckman writes in the Chicago Tribune.

McCain tells Zuckman: "I know how people are hurting. . . . I don't think Americans are too concerned that my father-in-law was able to achieve the great American success story -- they want to stay in their own homes."

As for Obama saying that McCain "doesn't know" about the lives of middle-class Americans," Cindy McCain tells Stephanopoulos: "I'm offended by Barack Obama saying that about my husband."

Your battleground: "As Democrats bolt from their historic convention and Republicans get ready to start their own, they are hitting the campaign trail in pursuit of no one so much as independent-minded, working-class voters whose economic anxieties have strategists in both parties calling them a crucial voting bloc this fall," Pat Doyle and Jenna Ross write in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

The message from one who will be in St. Paul: House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, lays out the vision for the week. "Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin are uniquely positioned to be the standard-bearers of our reform agenda, and every day through Nov. 4, they and Republican candidates up and down the ballot will highlight our solutions on gas prices, the economy, security and health care -- the issues that matter most to families, seniors and small businesses in Minnesota and across the country," Boehner writes in an op-ed in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The bounce? "Barack Obama jumped to his biggest lead since late July in public opinion polls, after his Aug. 28 speech to more than 75,000 people in a Denver football stadium when he accepted the Democratic Party's presidential nomination," Bloomberg's Bob Drummond and Nicholas Johnston report. "Obama leads McCain 49-41 percent in the most recent Gallup Poll daily tracking survey, which measured voter sentiment during a three-day period ending Aug. 28."

An irresistible storyline for reporters who seek such things out: Welcome to the Twin Cities, Dr. Paul.

"More than 9,700 tickets had been sold for the Rally for the Republic, which seeks to bring together activists who are anti-war, anti-government regulation, anti-immigration, anti-taxes, anti-Federal Reserve, anti-outsourcing, pro-individual liberty, pro-civil liberties and pro-Paul," per the AP's Suzanne Gamboa. "The Ronvoys -- fleets of buses and vans carrying Paul's loyalists -- were to begin arriving Saturday. A few rally-goers planned to walk from Green Bay, Wis., and join up with Paul for the final miles of their Walk4Freedom."

What is it with the mothers-in-law, anyway? "Faye Palin admitted she enjoys hearing Barack Obama speak, and still hasn't decided which way she'll vote," Nancy Dillon reports in the New York Daily News.

President Bush may not be in St. Paul, but his family is well-represented. The Houston Chronicle's Julie Mason: "For all the president's political woes, the Bush dynasty endures, as evidenced by other family members who will appear at the convention at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center. . . . First lady Laura Bush on Monday is scheduled to introduce the president at the convention. His mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, plans to watch from the audience. On Thursday night, McCain has invited former President George H.W. Bush to observe his acceptance speech from McCain's family box."

The Sked:

The Obama-Biden team continues its battleground tour Sunday, with an economy event in Toledo, Ohio, and a rally in Battle Creek, Mich.

McCain-Palin visits a storm-readying Jackson, Miss., at the invitation of Gov. Haley Barbour, R-Miss., and ends the day with an evening rally in O'Fallon, Mo.

Your Sunday line-up: Cindy McCain is George Stephanopoulos' guest on ABC's "This Week," with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., rounding out the lineup.

"Fox News Sunday": John and Cindy McCain.

"Meet the Press": Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn.

"Face the Nation": Former mayor Rudy Giuliani, R-N.Y.; Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.; Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La.; and Carly Fiorina

"Late Edition": Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla.; Gov. Mark Sanford, R-S.C.; former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn.

Obama and Biden sit down for an interview on "60 Minutes" Sunday night.

Obama on Biden: "He can step in and become president."

Obama on Palin: "She seems to have a compelling life story. Obviously, she's a fine mother and a up-and-coming public servant. . . . My sense is that she subscribes to John McCain's agenda."

Highlighted by the Democrats this week, in the war room in St. Paul: DNC Chairman Howard Dean; Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; former Gov. Tom Vilsack, D-Iowa; Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin; Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas; and Gov. Bill Ritter, D-Colo.

Plus special guests David Plouffe and David Axelrod, planting the Obama flag in the Twin Cities.

The Kicker:

"What I've had to do, though, is in the middle of the night, put down the Blackberries and pick up the breast pump." -- Sarah Palin, in one of the many sentences she can utter but Joe Biden can't. http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalradar/2008/08/people-magazine.html

"We never get great speakers and they don't throw parties for us." -- Spencer Stokes, GOP convention delegate from deep-red Utah.

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