The Note: Twin Paths

ST. PAUL, Minn. --

In honor of these two weeks that brought us two new faces and two unusual conventions, there are only two possible paths out of the Twin Cities:

1. Everything is different. (Palin's pop + Biden's bite = Increased enthusiasm/ changed perceptions.)

2. Everything is the same. (Bounce - Rebound = Right where we were before.)

The 60-day sprint upon us, the contrasts offered by the compelling candidates and their extraordinary running mates are stark and clear. In an election defined by voters' desire for change, Sen. Barack Obama is offering himself up as the embodiment of the possibilities, while Sen. John McCain casts himself as the one who can actually get it done.

"It's almost as if the two contenders are running in different races," writes USA Today's Susan Page. "Democrats calculate that the presidential election will turn on bread-and-butter issues. To judge by their speeches at the convention, Republicans are convinced it will be defined by questions of character and trust."

"Advisers to McCain and Obama foresee the same competitive race, but with some of the battle lines redrawn," Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post. "It was McCain, through his selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate and an acceptance speech that included challenges to his own party, who clearly sought to shake up the race and force voters to see it from a new angle. Republicans said Thursday that they think the gamble could pay off."

Surely the talk of change means something has changed -- unless it hasn't.

"After watching two political conclaves the last two weeks, it would be easy to be confused about which was really the gathering of the opposition," Peter Baker writes in The New York Times. "As Senator John McCain accepted the Republican nomination for president, he and his supporters sounded the call of insurgents seeking to topple the establishment, even though their party heads the establishment. . . . But as a matter of history, it is easier to run as the opposition party if you actually are the opposition party."

"A generation apart, both are proclaiming themselves agents of change -- each of a different variety," Patricia Lopez writes in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "McCain says the change he will bring is the kind born of a lifetime in the trenches, of knowing how reform happens and how hard and incremental it can be."

As we return to the real world . . . it would not be a race -- not this year -- without the mention of a Clinton.

It takes a woman to take on a woman: "Senator Barack Obama will increasingly lean on prominent Democratic women to undercut Gov. Sarah Palin and Senator John McCain, dispatching Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to Florida on Monday and bolstering his plan to deploy female surrogates to battleground states," per The New York Times' Patrick Healy and Jeff Zeleny.

(Ceding ground? "David Axelrod, the Obama campaign's chief political strategist, said Mr. Obama would not raise questions about Ms. Palin's experience," the report.)

Just as it would not be a race without the mention of a Bush.

The headline revelation in the new Bob Woodward book: "The Bush administration has conducted an extensive spying operation on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his staff and others in the Iraqi government," per The Washington Post write-up.

Woodward's judgment: "Too often he failed to lead," he writes, per Fox's Bill Sammon.

(But McCain could look worse: "Everything is f---ing spin," he's quoted as saying in the book, voicing frustration about President Bush's approach to the Iraq war.)

And it could not be a race without a goof: Could the McCain campaign possibly have put up a photo of the wrong Walter Reed, at the highest of high-profile screens?

There are still the fundamentals: a struggling economy; an unpopular incumbent; a lingering war; a country that considers itself off-track.

And yet, after a night where McCain's convention offered his biography in substitute of a vision -- and offered up a running mate in service of enthusiasm -- there was enough of a glimpse of what the race might become.

Gov. Sarah Palin has invigorated the base -- though not yet the nation. "Given the sharp political divisions she inspires, Palin's initial impact on vote preferences and on views of McCain looks like a wash, and, contrary to some prognostication, she does not draw disproportionate support from women," per ABC Polling Director Gary Langer. "But she could potentially assist McCain by energizing the GOP base, in which her reviews are overwhelmingly positive."

Palin has a 50-37 favorable/unfavorable split -- and it's breaking cleanly down party lines. "Joe Biden helps Barack Obama a little bit more than Sarah Palin helps John McCain," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" Friday.

When those balloons finally finish falling from the rafters, we'll find McCain heading back for the path that got him here.

"Mr. McCain firmly signaled that he intended to seize the mantle of change Mr. Obama claimed in his own unlikely bid for his party's nomination," Adam Nagourney and Michael Cooper write in The New York Times. "He used the word 'fight' 43 times in the course of the speech, as he sought to present himself as the insurgent he was known as before the primaries, when he veered to the right."

From here, a return to basics: "John McCain intends to return to his maverick roots in the suddenly-here home stretch of the general election, portraying himself and his unconventional running mate as the real reformers and trying to steal the mantle of change from Barack Obama," Politico's Jonathan Martin writes. "But even as Republicans now have something to get excited about instead of just somebody to rally against, McCain aides still want to keep the focus on Obama. All the attention the Illinois senator has received, one said, has made him take on the role of incumbent."

McCain is "returning to the themes that saved his once flailing presidential quest," per The Boston Globe's Susan Milligan. "McCain last night was faced with the task not only of making as vivid an impression as Obama did, but also of delivering an address that would provoke at least as much enthusiasm as Republicans showered on Palin Wednesday night."

Break out the old playbook: "Cultural affinities, which President Bush played on heavily to paint 2004 Democratic nominee John F. Kerry as elite and out of touch, are now central to the campaign strategy of GOP presidential nominee John McCain," Peter Wallsten and Doyle McManus write in the Los Angeles Times.

While he's at it, he'll take Obama's change, thank you very much. "An act of political larceny so brazen that Republicans hope it just might work," Newsday's Craig Gordon writes of McCain's speech.

"Never in recent American history has the candidate of a party seeking to maintain its hold on the presidency seen its candidate so aggressively dismiss the legacy of the incumbent commander-in-chief and his allies," The Nation's John Nichols writes.

Yet McCain is no simple lifter-upper: "For every McCain call for consensus Thursday night, there had been a missile aimed at Barack Obama on Wednesday night. For every call to fight as Americans for America, there had been a party comrade calling on the faithful to fight as Republicans for conservatism. For every insistence that he was not working for any one party, McCain's allies had already done his dirty work," per the AP's Ron Fournier. "This conflict between smiles and swordsmanship undercuts his campfire-song message of a unified nation working together for change."

What Sarah has brought: "Jolted by Alaska's Governor Sarah Palin joining John McCain on its party's ticket, the conservative Republican base may finally be as fired up and ready to go as the liberal activists backing Democrat Barack Obama," Brian C. Mooney writes in The Boston Globe. The Rev. Pat Robertson, on CNN, called Palin the "most exciting Republican politician since Ronald Reagan."

"I think that what Barack did for the Democrat Party, she is certainly doing for the Republican Party, and we're gonna surprise a lot of people," Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said on ABC NewsNOW Thursday.

Think people are interested? Says Nielsen: "More than 37.2 million people tuned in for coverage of the third night of the 2008 Republican National Convention . . . just 1.1 million fewer viewers than Barack Obama's record-breaking speech on day four of the Democratic convention."

Writes ABC's Jake Tapper: "This included a big female audience of 19.5 million women -- 5.2 million more women than tuned in for Sen. Hillary Clinton's, D-N.Y., speech of day two of the Democratic convention and 6.9 million more than watched Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., accept the Democrats' vice presidential nomination. These are numbers that will scare and unnerve Democrats."

"Republican analysts were saying, virtually until the announcement that Mrs. Palin would be on the ticket, that the party could not run on a base-turnout election strategy," Ralph Z. Hallow writes in the Washington Times.

From the new CBS/NYT poll (which pegs the race at 42-42): "McCain has . . . closed the enthusiasm gap some with Obama, but it still exists. Fifty-five percent of Obama's supporters are enthusiastic about their choice, and now so are 35% of McCain's. Last weekend, just 25 percent of McCain's supporters were enthusiastic about him, compared to 67 of Obama's supporters."

"Overnight, internal campaign polls found a big move by Christian voters and Republican women back into the Republican fold," Thomas M. DeFrank reports in the New York Daily News. Said one senior strategist: "We are now dead even."

The real way to measure it: "John McCain's campaign expects to leave the Republican National Convention with $200 million in the bank and be able to match the Democrats' spending in the next two months," Bloomberg's Jonathan D. Salant reports. "McCain will depart from the St. Paul, Minnesota, convention with $84.1 million in federal funds and the Republican National Committee will have about $125 million, the campaign aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Fundraisers are working to bring in another $80 million to $100 million over the next two months, the aide said."

(In the other direction: "Barack Obama's presidential campaign said it raised $10 million Thursday following the Republican National Convention speech by rival John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin. Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Palin's address, heavily laced with digs at Obama, prompted an outpouring of donations from more than 130,000 donors," per the AP.)

Palin's success "in galvanizing the party's base here this week liberated Sen. McCain to reach beyond those voters to Democrats and independents in his own speech," Gerald F. Seib and Laura Meckler write in The Wall Street Journal.

"Sen. McCain planned to leave St. Paul immediately after the speech with Gov. Palin for a campaign tour that starts in the battleground state of Wisconsin," Seib and Meckler continue. "He does so in better shape than beleaguered Republicans generally, but knowing that to win he has to reach beyond a shrunken Republican base to reach voters from both parties as well as independents. His goal now will be to woo important blocs of working-class males, suburban women, and independents in a handful of key states to win in November."

"Although Republicans appear more excited than ever about his candidacy, McCain could win every one of their votes and still lose the White House," Mark Z. Barabak writes in the Los Angeles Times. "To prevail, McCain needs to appeal to independents and centrist voters and swing a decent number of Democrats his way."

That's it? "Now McCain must save his party," Politico's Roger Simon writes. "Its brand, as he pointed out, has been seriously damaged over the past few years, and if McCain is to win in November, he has to appeal to more than just the social conservatives who have been energized by his selection of Palin as his running mate."

As for the Palin pushback: "The Obama folks . . . seem to have settled on a strategy of downplaying Palin's lack of experience in favor of attacking her bigger claim to fame -- her reputation as a maverick, non-partisan reformer," Time's Jay Newton-Small reports.

They've been here before: "Barack Obama finds himself in the same delicate political situation he faced in the primaries: how to punch back against a hard-hitting female opponent without offending women," Christopher Cooper and Corey Dade write in The Wall Street Journal. "His campaign's emerging strategy is to criticize Sarah Palin's policies but play down the personal criticism, while keeping the focus as much as possible on her running mate, John McCain."

New Palin info: "Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin seems to have switched colleges at least six times in six years, including two stints at the University of Idaho before graduating from there in 1987," per the AP's Nicholas K. Geranios.

About that plane: "Palin's statement implied the plane was sold through the online auction site revered for empowering millions of small entrepreneurs, and Palin's spokeswoman insisted Thursday that the transaction occurred. But the plane failed to sell on eBay," Jason George and Andrew Zajac write in the Chicago Tribune. "Instead, the 23-year-old 10-seat Westwind II was sold in August 2007 for $2.1 million to a Valdez, Alaska, entrepreneur; that's about $300,000 less than a broker's asking price, according to news accounts. Also, while Palin characterized the plane as an extravagance of former Gov. Frank Murkowski, who arranged for its purchase in November 2005, the plane saw heavy use transporting Alaskan convicts."

Remember that the country's still learning about the Palins: "On two separate occasions last fall, the husband of the Republican vice presidential candidate boarded planes chartered by mining companies that want to dig for gold, zinc and lead in remote Alaska valleys," per the AP's Dina Cappiello. "The trips cost $1,005, according to Gov. Sarah Palin's financial disclosure forms, which described them as gifts. The travel showcased the niche Palin has filled in his wife's administration -- helping find jobs for Alaskans who, like him, didn't graduate from college."

Also remember that Gov. Palin is still learning about the countries: "Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman is among several national security experts helping brief Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin on foreign policy issues as she prepares to hit the campaign trail while cramming for a debate with her Democratic opponent," Michael Abramowitz and Juliet Eilperin write in The Washington Post. "Privately, some in the GOP foreign policy establishment voiced concern that McCain has turned to a relative neophyte on national security matters at a time when the United States is facing challenges ranging from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the nuclear activities of Iran and North Korea."

That green-screen background shot behind McCain was wrong on several levels. The only plausible explanation for why Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood, Calif., made it onto the most visible of backdrops: "Several readers have suggested that perhaps one of the tech geeks charged with setting up the audio/visual bells and whistles for the evening was tasked with getting pictures of Walter Reed Army Medical Center but goofed and got this instead," Josh Marshall writes at Talking Points Memo.

The Sked:

It's a noontime rally in Wisconsin for the McCain-Palin ticket, followed by an early evening rally in Sterling Heights, Mich.

Obama and the Bidens campaign in Pennsylvania on Friday.

Obama is George Stephanopoulos' exclusive headliner on ABC's "This Week" Sunday.

Biden does "Meet the Press."

McCain does "Face the Nation."

"And Palin is doing . . . something that doesn't involve journalists and live television cameras," writes Newsweek's Andrew Romano.

Also in the news:

Bill O'Reilly got Obama to go farther than he has, in assessing the surge: "It's succeeded beyond our wildest dreams," Obama said.

The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley: "The topic was national security, and their tone was civil, but thankfully not too civil: Mr. O'Reilly, as is his wont, spoke brusquely, interrupted, argued and didn't let his guest off the hook. He told Mr. Obama he had 'bloviated' in parts of his convention speech, but congratulated him on his early opposition to the war, saying he had been 'perspicacious.' "

Bad for the brand: "Just from what little I've seen of her and Mr. Obama, Sen. Obama, they're a member of an elitist-class individual that thinks that they're uppity," said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., per The Hill. "Uppity, yeah."

It wasn't just the Code Pinkers getting dragged away: "Police arrested hundreds of anti-war protesters outside of the Republican convention hall Thursday night in St. Paul. Over 1,000 demonstrators marched from the State Capitol to the Xcel Energy Center, where tens of the thousands of Republican delegates and party elite gathered to hear Sen. John McCain's acceptance speech," per ABC's Jennifer Duck and Lindsey Ellerson.

House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel has some explaining to do: "Representative Charles B. Rangel has earned more than $75,000 in rental income from a villa he has owned in the Dominican Republic since 1988, but never reported it on his federal or state tax returns, according to a lawyer for the congressman and documents from the resort," per The New York Times' David Kocieniewski.

The Kicker:

"Even in the Senate when he used to heckle us for doing stupid things, which we usually were, it was not with Shakespearian flair." -- Trent Lott, on his former colleague John McCain's oratorical skills.

"And I'll go with you!" -- Bill O'Reilly, offering himself as Barack Obama's traveling companion, to force the Iraqis to pay more for their own rebuilding.

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