The Note: Palin Paradox

So as October is set to pass without a surprise . . .

Sen. Barack Obama wants us to be scared of something in the rearview mirror . . .

While Sen. John McCain wants us to be scared of something coming into view through the front windshield . . .

Both candidates are a little bit scared when their running mates get behind the wheel. . .

Republicans are mildly haunted by a ghost whose name cannot be mentioned . . .

Democrats are counting on certain ghosts in Florida . . .

And McCain is dealing with a set of familiar demons.

As he and his running mate tax the tax issue, and hope for a boost from an action hero Friday, McCain is caught in the same sort of push-pull that has defined his political career.

Call it the Palin Paradox: McCain seems unable to effectively fire up the GOP base without turning off independents. He can't win without both, not this year, not in this climate. And Palin, for all the energy she's inspired, has pretty much literally caused more trouble than she's worth to the ticket.

Does this sound like total confidence? "The enthusiasm level is incredibly high," McCain told ABC's Robin Roberts in Ohio, on "Good Morning America" Friday. "It's higher than I've ever seen it in any campaign I've ever been in. I'm not predicting -- well, I think, I'm confident that we'll win, but this intensity level in the last several days has really been remarkable. And I'm enthusiastic."

"We're going to fight it out on the economic grounds," McCain said.

If McCain really isn't concerned about his running mate's impact, well, he's the one. "59 percent of voters surveyed said Ms. Palin was not prepared for the job, up nine percentage points since the beginning of the month," Michael Cooper and Dalia Sussman write in The New York Times. "And in a possible indication that the choice of Ms. Palin has hurt Mr. McCain's image, voters said they had much more confidence in Mr. Obama to pick qualified people for his administration than they did in Mr. McCain."

(It's Obama 51, McCain 40 in the latest NYT/CBS poll.)

Said ABC's George Stephanopoulos, on "Nightline" Thursday: "When you look at the bottom line, Joe Biden helped Barack Obama with all voters. He made people feel better about Barack Obama. Sarah Palin has hurt John McCain with the broader electorate. It's shown in poll after poll after poll."

McCain supporter Lawrence Eagleburger, a former GOP secretary of state, has his concerns. Asked by NPR whether Palin could step in during a time of crisis, he said: "It is a very good question. . . . I'm being facetious here. Look, of course not."

He added: "Give her some time in the office and I think the answer would be, she will be -- adequate. I can't say that she would be a genius in the job. But I think she would be enough to get us through a four year . . . well I hope not . . . get us through whatever period of time was necessary. And I devoutly hope that it would never be tested."

Responds McCain, on "GMA": "Larry has never had a chance to meet Sarah." Then this head-scratcher: "She's got more experience than Sen. Biden and Sen. Obama put together."

And McCain sees her as the future of the party, kinda sorta: "As vice president or -- OR [looks straight to camera] -- I think there's no doubt." (What a facial expression!)

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