The Note: The Big Shift

He's danced over caucuses and superdelegates, skated past two dozen debates and 19 months on the trail, rolled through Jeremiah Wright and Hillary Clinton -- and a hockey mom from Alaska could be his undoing?

Eight weeks out -- his lead in the polls erased (for now), the money not quite flowing the way he anticipated, women voters impressed by the newest newcomer -- the weight of the race falls on Sen. Barack Obama's shoulders.

(And your real-world alert: President Bush announces Tuesday morning that he's pulling out 8,000 US troops out of Iraq by February.)

Yes, this period of the race has been all about Gov. Sarah Palin -- but how long it lasts is going to be up to Obama. Smart political types are looking for a sharper message -- one that reminds voters of the big stakes in the race, not the little items on a running mate's resume.

(Who usually wins when a presidential candidate takes on a vice-presidential one? How does Obama take on an Obama-like phenomenon? What does it say about Obama's support that it was soft enough to flee this quickly? What, in the end, do women want?)

All that work, gone? The new ABC News/Washington Post poll pegs it at McCain 49, Obama 47 among likely voters -- inside the margin of error, but with a name we're not used to seeing in the lead.

Inside the numbers, some shockers: "White women have moved from 50-42 percent in Obama's favor before the conventions to 53-41 percent for McCain now, a 20-point shift that's one of the single biggest post-convention changes in voter preferences. The other, also to McCain's advantage, is in the battleground Midwest, where he's moved from a 19-point deficit to a 7-point edge," per ABC Polling Directory Gary Langer.

"It really is stunning," ABC's George Stephanopoulos said on "Good Morning America" Tuesday. "We haven't seen a bigger shift among a single group in quite a long time. . . . There's no question that these voters have a very favorable opinion of Sarah Palin. They like what they saw, they like what they heard."

As Obama talks education Tuesday -- arguing anew that he's the change agent, not McCain-Palin -- Obama's 32-point edge on "change" is now down to 12 points.

Another key gap is closing: "For the first time since the end of the primaries, a majority of voters are enthusiastic about McCain's candidacy, and the percentage calling themselves 'very enthusiastic' has nearly doubled from late August. That percentage is drastically higher now among conservative Republicans and white evangelical Protestants," Jon Cohen and Dan Balz write in The Washington Post. "The question both campaigns are weighing is whether McCain, by hitting hard on the themes of reform and change that have been at the heart of Obama's message, has reshaped voters' perceptions of the two tickets."

For the moment, at least, we perceive a tie ballgame: It's 48-48 among registered voters in the new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll.

"If Senator John McCain threw a political Hail Mary pass by picking Sarah Palin as his running mate, this much is clear: She caught it and ran," per The Boston Globe's Scott Helman. "Ten days after McCain upended the presidential race by tapping the little-known governor of Alaska, the buzz generated by the GOP ticket shows no sign of abating, even as Palin has yet to answer questions from the press or the public."

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