The Note: Palin Power

Congratulations, Sen. John McCain: The race is no longer solely about Sen. Barack Obama. (Which is not the same as saying it's about you.)

There, on the cover of Time, Newsweek, and People -- and US Weekly and the National Enquirer -- is the woman McCain vaulted from obscurity to celebrity without a pass through the stages of political curiosity (not that the press corps isn't curious).

Just about by herself -- with her record still a mystery, and almost without answering a single question -- Gov. Sarah Palin has deposited the ticket in the lead.

Already -- and most importantly -- she has shaken the stubborn narrative of the race. (Could it be that a country that wants a fresh approach was really waiting for a fresh face to promise it?)

"McCain leads Democrat Barack Obama by 50%-46% among registered voters, the Republican's biggest advantage since January and a turnaround from the USA TODAY poll taken just before the convention opened in St. Paul. Then, he lagged by 7 percentage points," per USA Today's Susan Page.

The lead stretches to 10 points among likely voters. And this is supposed to be Obama's trump card: "Before the convention, Republicans by 47%-39% were less enthusiastic than usual about voting," Page writes. "Now, they are more enthusiastic by 60%-24%, a sweeping change that narrows a key Democratic advantage. Democrats report being more enthusiastic by 67%-19%."

The Real Clear Politics polling average reads "McCain +1.0" -- anyone remember the last time those letters were red?

Team McCain starts the week trying to take Obama's "change." New ad out Monday morning (a fact-checker's delight): "The original mavericks. He fights pork barrel spending. She stopped the Bridge to Nowhere. He took on the drug industry. She took on big oil. He battled Republicans and reformed Washington. She battled Republicans and reformed Alaska. They'll make history.  They'll change Washington. McCain. Palin. Real change."

Palin, R-Alaska, has done many things for McCain in the 10 days since she announced her presence with a rifle shot across red-and-purple America: energize the base, prime the pump of GOP fundraising, inject youth into a tired party, challenge the mainstream media to understand precisely what her candidacy means.

What it means is something real: "Palin's debut has invigorated the Republican base here in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia, a battleground area in a top swing state, and one where GOP turnout depends heavily on evangelical Christians such as the Goodes, along with the many military families clustered around the Norfolk and Portsmouth bases," Alec MacGillis writes in The Washington Post.

"The reaction has been remarkably instantaneous, with socially conservative voters who had barely heard of Palin electrified by the few facts they quickly learned. . . . But the question facing Republicans here is whether their organization can match, and fully capitalize on, the enthusiasm provided by Palin with just two months left until Election Day."

We still can't be sure which way and how deeply Palin cuts, not yet. (And as Oprah declines the honor -- Palin will sit down for a full-length interview with an actual reporter before the week is out: ABC's Charlie Gibson grabs the scoop the McCain campaign said it would not dole out until Palin was good and ready.)

Obama, D-Ill., wants desperately to turn the focus to the economy -- and the government's help for Fannie and Freddie may help him get there. (But forgetting Sarah Palin is hard.)

Also coming to Obama's aid: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, hitting the trail solo for Obama in Florida on Monday (but don't look for her to take it directly to Palin).

(And lunch is on for Thursday -- 9/11: Bill and Barack are set to break bread in New York City, per ABC's Kate Snow.)

Obama is taking on Palin himself (isn't this what you're veep's supposed to do?): "He chose somebody who may be even more aligned with George Bush -- or Dick Cheney, or the politics we've seen over the last eight years -- than John McCain himself is," Obama said on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." (He called her a "skilled politician" -- but would not say she is prepared to be president.)

Behold Palin's impact: In giving Republicans something to be happy about again, she's constructing a new storyline, complete with its own savior who is the center of all the action. (A few more polls like the one from USA Today/Gallup, and that action will be where everyone wants to be.)

It starts with curiosity: "McCain's resurgence in the polls comes as Nielsen Media Research reported that the Republican convention earned more television viewers than the Democratic convention. Republicans earned an average audience of 34.5 million, while Democrats earned an average viewership of 30.2 million," per Politico's David Paul Kuhn.

They appear to have liked what they saw: "John McCain may have swapped one enthusiasm gap for another," Politico's Jonathan Martin reports. "Palin, with her out-of-nowhere debut, compelling personal story and first-rate convention speech, has injected new life into the GOP and piqued the curiosity of voters who are only mildly interested in politics."

This is why she's not back in Alaska yet: "It was clear from raucous postconvention rallies in four battleground states -- each drawing thousands of cheering fans -- that Gov. Palin has brought an enthusiasm to the Republican ticket that wasn't there before her selection," Laura Meckler writes in The Wall Street Journal. "In interviews, voters seemed drawn to Gov. Palin's persona, not necessarily her experience or views."

"He is a feistier candidate with Palin at his side. With his blue shirt sleeves rolled up, he punches out his lines with gusto, railing against the 'old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second Washington crowd,' stabbing the air with his Sharpie marker and thumping the lectern with his fist," Maeve Reston writes in the Los Angeles Times. "Aides acknowledge that Palin's presence has turned McCain into a sharper campaigner, and that is perhaps why she abandoned her plans to return to Alaska this weekend. Instead, she will accompany him for two more days than planned this week."

All that excitement means bodies: ""Fresh from the Republican convention, Senator John McCain's campaign sees evidence that his choice of Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate is energizing conservatives in the battleground of Ohio while improving its chances in Pennsylvania and several Western states that Senator Barack Obama has been counting on," Patrick Healy and Michael Cooper write in the Sunday New York Times.

"While fortified turnout from this base is probably not enough to assure victory for Mr. McCain, strategists said, it would be very difficult for him to win without it," they continue. "In that sense, Ms. Palin's presence on the ticket -- depending on how her candidacy fares under the scrutiny it is receiving -- could be vital."

But how much rides on that first round of questions? "McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate galvanized the Republican base that has been wary of McCain because of his clashes with religious leaders he once termed 'agents of intolerance' and his sponsorship of a campaign-finance law. Her Sept. 3 acceptance speech drew raves from Republicans," Bloomberg's Michael Tackett writes. "Still, the Palin selection may give Democrats an opening to question McCain's decision-making because the Alaska governor, 44, has been in office for just 20 months."

"We'll know in eight weeks if boldness has salvaged McCain's dreams, or doomed them," Thomas M. DeFrank writes in the New York Daily News.

Who's happy to see Congress back? "The 2008 presidential campaign shifts to Capitol Hill this week, where lawmakers are girding for fights over energy and the economy to score points on behalf of their anointed candidates," Greg Hitt writes in The Wall Street Journal. "With the final push toward Election Day, few expect much substantial legislation to pass in the three-week session ahead. Instead, watch for sharp debates and votes on issues fundamental to the 2008 campaign."

This is why it's fun to see senators run for president: "Fresh off the two parties' national conventions, Republicans and Democrats are headed for a collision on Capitol Hill with just three weeks left to decide the fate of the ban on offshore drilling, the federal budget, tax-cut extensions and another stimulus package," Steven T. Dennis writes for Roll Call.

No tough votes for Palin, of course. And for all the scandals and disclosures and unanswered questions, Palin is in control of her image to a remarkable degree at this moment in the race. She's at that special stage in politics where even potential liabilities become assets -- and her decision to fuse motherhood and politics is paying off.

"Trig Paxson Van Palin, still only 143 days old, has had an unexpected effect on his mother's political fortunes. Before her son was born, Ms. Palin went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that his arrival would not compromise her work. She hid the pregnancy," per Jodi Kantor, Kate Zernike and Catrin Einhorn of The New York Times.

"But with Trig in her arms, Ms. Palin has risen higher than ever," they continue. "Senator John McCain, the Republican nominee for president, says he selected her as his running mate because of her image as a reformer, but she is also making motherhood an explicit part of her appeal, running as a self-proclaimed hockey mom. In just a few months, she has gone from hiding her pregnancy from those closest to her to toting her infant on stage at the Republican National Convention."

She knows her political imagery: "Of the many striking images of Palin -- sportswoman, beauty queen, populist -- in Alaska the most iconic is working mother, a perfectly coifed professional woman balancing public duties and child-rearing in a charismatic blur of multitasking," Karl Vick and James V. Grimaldi write in The Washington Post Sunday. "Long before she burst onto the national scene last month, Palin made politics a family affair in Alaska."

And Trig, who has Down syndrome, is his own rallying point: "The attention lavished on Trig, who can often be seen on TV being cradled by a family member, and who was on the covers of People and OK magazines, has helped the Republican ticket focus on an issue no one can debate: the need to help children with disabilities," Dan Morain writes in the Los Angeles Times. "The campaign almost surely will retell the story in commercials and appearances from now through election day, particularly as Democrats seek to portray McCain and Palin as conservatives who are out of touch with middle America."

That may or may not be context for this: "Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee for vice president, departed Sunday from party doctrine on abortion rights, declaring that as a Catholic, he believes life begins at conception," Kate Phillips writes in The New York Times.

Staying on topic, Obama conceded on "This Week" Why Hillary's out there: "Palin's potential appeal to women voters is no laughing matter to the Democrats," ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "Good Morning America" Monday. "Obama hit her for having been a strong proponent of pork barrel projects -- or earmarks -- despite her current positioning as an anti-pork reformer."

Willie Brown is worried: "The Democrats are in trouble. Sarah Palin has totally changed the dynamics of this campaign. Period," Brown writes in a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed. "Palin's speech to the GOP National Convention on Wednesday has set it up so that the Republicans are now on offense and Democrats are on defense. And we don't do well on defense."

Here's why: "McCain didn't just pick a politician who could appeal to Wal-Mart Moms. He picked a Wal-Mart Mom," William Kristol writes in his New York Times column. "Indeed, he picked someone who, in 1999, as Wasilla mayor, presided over a wedding of two Wal-Mart associates at the local Wal-Mart."

Stephen F. Hayes, in The Weekly Standard: "McCain advisers believe that the overwhelming media coverage over her first week has made her quite a draw and that average Americans will flock to someone who represents their sensibilities and their views. She grew up with them."

We're even coining words for her now (wasn't that once the exclusive province of Obamathans?).

Newsweek seeks to define "Palintology": "Palin's personal story taps one of the great American myths --the hardy woman of the frontier, God-fearing and determined to succeed against the odds. Her story could be a Capra film, or a chick flick. But as with most political biographies (or Hollywood films), the rougher edges have been burnished. To her critics, she's also shallow, opportunistic and even corrupt herself."

And a flash of temper, on the Internet rumors that her son is really her grandson: "An aide, speaking anonymously because the matter is sensitive, says that Palin and her husband grew angry about the allegations. 'Do I have to show them my stretch marks?' she asked one campaign official."

So much still to learn (and so many reporters up in Alaska trying to learn it). We know she's given birth five times -- what else has she done?

"Legislators and political observers say Palin has not pushed or signed major bills in other areas such as education, healthcare, and alternative energy, leaving her with no substantive record on issues she has begun to address forcefully on the campaign trail," Michael Levenson writes in the Sunday Boston Globe.

"Legislators said Palin's first 20 months in office reflect the priorities of a woman whose campaign emphasized trust in government and increasing state revenues from oil and gas concerns rather than bread-and-butter issues like schools and healthcare. While many praise Palin for making good on some of those promises, they say she has not shown much interest in developing a detailed or broad agenda," Levenson writes.

More of what she hasn't done: "Gov. Sarah Palin is about as anti-abortion as a politician can be, and crusaders on the issue say they can't imagine a better candidate," Lisa Demer reports in the Sunday Anchorage Daily News. "Yet she has not pushed that agenda in her nearly two years as governor. She backed a couple of anti-abortion bills that died in the state Legislature during the regular session, but didn't add them to the agenda during special sessions this summer."

Observations on leadership, from the Anchorage Daily News' editorial board: "Palin racked up her legislative victories even though her allies in the Legislature criticized her lobbying effort. Here at the Daily News, we repeatedly heard the complaint: The governor is missing in action; her staffers aren't working the halls the way they should be. Palin dislikes the give-and-take that usually helps smooth the way for political decisions. She states her case and expects legislators to base their actions on the merits of the issue."

A nick, on what wasn't done on ethics reform: "Yet a strange thing happened on the ethics issue once Palin became governor: She appeared to lose interest in completing the task of legislating comprehensive reform, some who supported the cleanup say," Tom Hamburger and Kim Murphy write in the Los Angeles Times. "The ethics bill she offered was so incomplete that its supporters had to undertake a significant rewrite. Moreover, when it came to building support for the bill, politicians in both parties say the new governor was often unaccountably absent from the fray."

What she might have done (and the campaign doesn't want you to know too much about): "Key Alaska allies of John McCain are trying to derail a politically charged investigation into Gov. Sarah Palin's firing of her public safety commissioner in order to prevent a so-called 'October surprise' that would produce embarrassing information about the vice presidential candidate on the eve of the election," per Newsweek's Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball.

"In a move endorsed by the McCain campaign Friday, John Coghill, the GOP chairman of the state House Rules Committee, wrote a letter seeking a meeting of Alaska's bipartisan Legislative Council in order to remove the Democratic state senator in charge of the so-called 'troopergate' investigation," they report.

What her church is doing: "Gov. Sarah Palin's church is promoting a conference that promises to convert gays into heterosexuals through the power of prayer," the AP's Rachel D'Oro reports. " 'You'll be encouraged by the power of God's love and His desire to transform the lives of those impacted by homosexuality,' according to the insert in the bulletin of the Wasilla Bible Church, where Palin has prayed for about six years."

A turn to the economy -- but on whose terms? "The back-to-back Democratic and Republican National Conventions sketched wildly different pictures of America, its challenges and the qualities it needs in its next president," Jim Tankersley and Christi Parsons write in the Chicago Tribune. "Now the visions will collide for the two-month homestretch of the general election campaign, and the outcome could depend on which version rings truer with voters."

The Biden-McCain smackdown: " 'Hey John,' said Biden when he encountered a life-size cardboard cut-out of the Republican nominee late in his flight from Wilmington, Del., to Kalispell, Mont.," per ABC's Matthew Jaffe. "Biden then grabbed the McCain cut-out by the shoulder and threw it down face-first so he could prop his foot up on the previously occupied seat and address reporters onboard the flight. McCain did not fight back."

Who's been in Washington too long? "When I got to the Senate some 400 years ago, it was a Democratic state, and it's gonna be a Democratic state again," Biden said Sunday in Montana, per the Daily Inter Lake's John Stang.

An unfortunate slip: "My Muslim faith," Obama said on ABC's "This Week" Sunday. "The three words - immediately corrected - were uttered during an exchange with ABC's George Stephanopoulos on 'This Week,' when Mr. Obama was trying to criticize the quiet smear campaign suggesting that he is a Muslim," per the Washington Times' Christina Bellantoni. "Within one hour of the interview, anti-Obama groups had edited it out of context and were sending it around via e-mail. They also were blogging about it."

And a reminder of how wacky it's been: "Anyone who predicts with any certainty what will happen in the next eight weeks ought to explain how well they forecast what would happen in the past eight days," Bloomberg's Al Hunt writes.

The Sked:

Obama plans to take his daughters to their first day of school Monday morning in Chicago, before flying to Michigan for events in Flint and Farmington Hills.

Obama does MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" at 8 pm ET.

Biden campaigns Monday in Green Bay, Wis., and at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, and overnights in Missouri.

McCain and Palin campaign together Monday in suburban Kansas City. "Winning the suburban vote in places such as Lee's Summit is seen as key to winning Missouri in November," per the Kansas City Star's Steve Kraske.

The marquee events may be the ones surrounded Hillary, who stumps in Orlando and Tampa for Obama on Monday. Per Politico: "Clinton's key symbolic role is in reminding her supporters that she's with Obama, not Palin, but Clintonites say not to expect harsh attacks on the Alaska governor. . . . Her aides say she'll cast the choice as one between change and more of the same."

Also in the news:

The New York Post is out with its endorsement: "McCain's lifelong record of service to America, his battle-tested courage, unshakeable devotion to principle and clear grasp of the dangers and opportunities now facing the nation stand in dramatic contrast to the tissue-paper-thin résumé of his Democratic opponent, freshman Sen. Barack Obama."

A new anti-Obama 527: "Republican political strategists in California are setting up a new political organization which hopes to run television commercials undermining the central themes of Senator Obama's presidential campaign while underscoring the strengths of his Republican opponent," Josh Gerstein writes in the New York Sun. "Leadership for America's Future was formally created on Thursday by a Sacramento, Calif.-based attorney, Thomas Hiltachk, according to a form registering the so-called 527 group with the Internal Revenue Service. The organization's slick Web site includes a 30-second video (click on 'MEDIA') that shows images of war and misery around the world as an announcer gravely warns of the dangers of putting America in untested hands."

Another nugget from Obama's "This Week" interview: "I actually always thought of the military as an ennobling and you know, honorable option," Obama said.

It's been a while since we had a good, meaty lobbying story: "A top adviser to John McCain's campaign, former lobbyist Charlie Black, previously represented a Moscow think tank run by former Russian Telecommunications Minister Leonid Reiman," Glenn R. Simpson writes in The Wall Street Journal. "Mr. Reiman, who has long been a close associate of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, is now an adviser to President Dmitry Medvedev."

Ted isn't ready for work yet: "Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who has brain cancer, will not be on Capitol Hill this week when Congress returns from its summer break," per the AP's Andrew Miga. "He intends to work from his Massachusetts home this fall and return to the Senate in January. A Kennedy aide said yesterday that the Democratic lawmaker's doctors are pleased with his progress, but want him to keep working from home through the fall."

"The announcement marked a change in plans for Kennedy; his aides and colleagues had said throughout the summer that he would return this week as Congress reconvened after a five-week recess and headed into a final legislative sprint before the November elections," The Washington Post's Paul Kane reports.

Big changes on big nights on MSNBC: Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews are out of the anchor chairs. "After months of accusations of political bias and simmering animosity between MSNBC and its parent network NBC, the channel decided over the weekend that the NBC News correspondent and MSNBC host David Gregory would anchor news coverage of the coming debates and election night. Mr. Olbermann and Mr. Matthews will remain as analysts during the coverage," per The New York Times' Brian Stelter. "The change -- which comes in the home stretch of the long election cycle -- is a direct result of tensions associated with the channel's perceived shift to the political left."

Surrogate silliness: Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., makes his views known: "Do you really want to have a guy as commander in chief of this country when you can question whether or not he really loves his country?" said Inhofe, per the Tulsa World's Jim Myers. "That's the big question.''

Howard Gutman, an original member of Obama's national finance committee, makes his views known, on the subject of the Palins' parenting skills: "This wasn't a working mother issue, this was a parent issue," he told radio host Laura Ingraham, per ABC's Jake Tapper. "The proper attack is not that a woman shouldn't run for vice president with five kids, it's that a parent, when they have a family in need, a Down's baby who needs them --- mother or father. . . . They put their family above their career. . . Your responsibility is to put your family first."

Coming Thursday: McCain and Obama plan to take a pause from the campaign to appear together at Ground Zero, on the seventh anniversary of 9/11. Per ABC: "The Senators are both scheduled to appear later that evening at the 'ServiceNation Presidential Candidate Forum' at Columbia University," moderated by Judy Woodruff and Richard Stengel.

The Kicker:

"She looks like she's got some game. . . . On the basketball court, I think I'd stand up pretty well." -- Barack Obama, saying he'd accept a challenge to play Sarah Palin in HORSE -- but making clear he wants to keep his shooting to baskets.

"It's an honor to follow in the footsteps of a great American." -- John McCain, told that he was surpassing Bob Dole's record with his 65th appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation." (Sarah Palin is only 65 appearances back.)

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