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!)

The comparison that really hurts: McCain, as Bob Dole. "Both are war heroes, known best for their political biography. Both returned to the Senate in the midst of campaigning, foundering for a time as a result. And both watched their opponent draw record crowds while theirs were comparatively lackluster," Jill Zuckman writes in the Chicago Tribune.

Zuckman recalls that earlier this year, McCain was still talking about how Dole's isolation was an error: "I would not enjoy, in any way, the seclusion and keeping the media away," McCain said. "It just wouldn't be any fun. And it's got to be fun."

If McCain pulls this off, it will have to be about more than him and his running mate connecting -- at this point, it will have to be about his rival missing, in a way that hasn't been picked up by the polls.

(And not all that many people missed his infomercial Wednesday night.)

Witness Ohio, McCain's absolute must-win: "Heading into the crucial final weekend, Republicans say their operation is even stronger and running ahead of where they were four years ago at this time," Laura Meckler writes in The Wall Street Journal. "But Republicans also have a lot more ground to make up than they did four years ago. . . . Polls now show Sen. Obama leading here [in Ohio], by four to nine percentage points. Sen. McCain is spending two of the last six days here, and twin efforts are under way to replicate Mr. Bush's 2004 performance."

"In case anyone was wondering if Ohio was a combat zone for Senator John McCain's presidential campaign, consider that five days before the election the candidate took a 220-mile, six-stop, 12-hour bus tour across the northern breadth of the state," Elisabeth Bumiller writes in The New York Times. "Along the way, he deployed his unofficial running mate, a disappearing and reappearing Joe the Plumber, to try to drive his points home."

"The modest crowds that met McCain on Thursday in Ohio -- a state with 20 electoral votes crucial to his strategy -- illustrated his struggle to inspire supporters as fervently as Obama has," Maeve Reston and Michael Finnegan write in the Los Angeles Times.

If you could discern a message . . . "John McCain is employing several lines of attack each day and Republican strategists say the lack of focus makes it nearly impossible for him to gain ground before Election Day," The Hill's Sam Youngman writes.

Bold declarations: "Republican presidential candidate John McCain goes into the campaign's final weekend a bigger underdog than any victorious candidate in a modern election," Bloomberg's Indira A.R. Lakshmanan reports.

"This election is cooked and done, it's in the warming tray," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

McCain "is as desperate as a candidate can be," said Stu Rothenberg.

On the other side: "His Democratic rival, meanwhile, exuded confidence as the two toured many of the same battleground states. Sen. Barack Obama is all but taking for granted states that Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) won four years ago and is spending the last few days in George W. Bush country, forcing McCain to defend what was friendly territory for the GOP just four years ago," Michael D. Shear and Peter Slevin report in The Washington Post.

"Being president when things are easy -- not to say being president is ever easy -- but being president when peace and prosperity already exists is less of a challenge," Obama tells USA Today's Kathy Kiely. "I signed up to make this country better."

No worries here: "In an interview with USA TODAY, McCain was defiant toward the polls that show him trailing Democrat Barack Obama, combative about a new government report that shows a contracting economy, dismissive of talk of friction with running mate Sarah Palin and focused on pressing his case in the campaign's final days," David Jackson writes.

Says McCain: "When people saw Joe the Plumber ask the question, and the answer that Sen. Obama gave him." McCain snapped his finger. "The light went on."

But that same light was dimmed Thursday. "Joe, where are you? Where is Joe? Is Joe here with us today?" McCain asked at Defiance Junior High School in Ohio.

The New York Times' Bumiller: "It turned out that Mr. Wurzelbacher, as he told CNN, had never received final confirmation from the McCain campaign that he was expected. The campaign, after watching Mr. McCain haplessly call out for Mr. Wurzelbacher on the cable networks, dispatched a car and rushed the plumber to Mr. McCain's next event, in Sandusky, where Mr. Wurzelbacher spoke."

"Maybe Joe the Plumber was out on a job. But he wasn't out campaigning with Sen. John McCain Thursday morning," ABC's Bret Hovell reports.

(He showed up on the trail and endorsed McCain later: "As far as my vote goes," he said, "It's going to be for a real American. It's going to be for a real American, John McCain.")

It didn't go much better for Palin: "His veep pick Sarah Palin had her own awkward moment at an afternoon rally in Erie, Pa. -- Pittsburgh Pirates territory," Michael McAuliff and Richard Sisk report in the New York Daily News. "Apparently nobody told her. She said she was 'thrilled to be here in the home state of the world champion Philadelphia Phillies.' She got booed."

It's Obama 52, McCain 44 in the latest (and remarkably stable) ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll.

And you thought Palin might be a drag? "Fewer than half of likely voters in the latest ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll, 47 percent, think McCain would lead in a new direction; 50 percent instead say he'd mainly continue on Bush's path," ABC polling director Gary Langer writes. "McCain has not exceeded 48 percent 'new direction' all year, at a time when dissatisfaction with the country's current course has hit record highs."

Bring an action hero with you, my friends: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-Calif., joins McCain on the stump in Ohio Friday. "I know it is going to be a very tough uphill battle for him," Schwarzenegger said Thursday, per the Los Angeles Times' Jordan Rau.

Obama unleashes his own secret weapon: Al Gore hits Florida on Friday, campaigning for a presidential candidate there for the first time since you-know-when.

"By dispatching former Vice President Al Gore to Palm Beach and Broward counties today, Democrat Barack Obama is hoping to stir strong sentiments about the 2000 election and emphasize that this election may be as close as the one eight years ago," Mark Hollis writes in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "At a noon rally expected to draw several thousand people to the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach and later in Coconut Creek, Gore and his wife, Tipper, will prod Obama supporters to participate in early voting."

Parity, at last: "Sen. John McCain and the Republican National Committee will unleash a barrage of spending on television advertising that will allow him to keep pace with Sen. Barack Obama's ad blitz during the campaign's final days, but the expenditures will impact McCain's get-out-the-vote efforts," Matthew Mosk writes in The Washington Post. "The decision to finance a final advertising push is forcing McCain to curtail spending on Election Day ground forces to help usher his supporters to the polls, according to Republican consultants familiar with McCain's strategy."

This is a shift: The latest from the Wisconsin Advertising Project: "From October 21st to October 28th, spending on television advertising in the presidential campaign has totaled nearly $38 million. Over this time period, the Obama campaign spent nearly $21.5 million while the McCain campaign spent nearly $7.5 million."

A different mode on the other side: "Barack Obama's campaign has approached Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel about possibly serving as White House chief of staff, officials said Thursday," per the AP's David Espo and Ben Feller. "The Democrats who described the Obama campaign's approach to Emanuel spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to be quoted by name. An aide to the congressman, Sarah Feinberg, said in an e-mail that he 'has not been contacted to take a job in an administration that does not yet exist. Everyone is focused on Election Day, as they should be.' "

Said Obama, late Thursday: "I'm trying to win an election," Obama shouted back at a yelled question, per ABC's Jake Tapper. "Plouffe is my chief of staff," he added, referring to campaign manager David Plouffe.

Surely something's getting measured: "Expect a turbocharged transition if Barack Obama wins, with a Treasury secretary and White House chief of staff named days after his election," the New York Daily News' Thomas M. DeFrank And Kenneth R. Bazinet report. "The list of candidates for Treasury secretary includes former Clinton administration Treasury chief Larry Summers; Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; and ex-Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, among others."

Is there anything McCain's folks want to measure? "Aides say Sen. McCain's transition team, headed by former Navy Secretary [John] Lehman, has a different, less-structured approach. Mr. Lehman and a small group of aides are concentrating on the logistics of swiftly taking control of the U.S. national security apparatus," The Wall Street Journal's Andy Pasztor writes. "Sen. McCain is reluctant to set up formal transition teams for individual departments and hasn't asked for specific recommendations of possible appointees, according to aides. They said that at this stage, domestic agencies aren't the top priority and the team is staying away from compiling formal lists of candidates for choice jobs."

David Axelrod isn't celebrating yet: "I think it would be foolish to the extreme to ever suggest that a campaign is over until it's over. I like where we are positioned. I think I'd much rather be us than him, I've always believed that he's on the wrong side of history," Obama's chief strategist tells Time's Jay Newton-Small.

Is he worried about the Bradley effect? "People have got bigger concerns and we've moved beyond that as a country. So I don't worry about that, what I worry about is mobilizing our voters so that when people come out they understand that in many of these battleground states the race is close. It's not enough to anticipate victory; you have to earn it," Axelrod says.

Karl Rove says to ignore the polls -- except when you can't. "The question that matters is the margin," Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal column. "If Mr. McCain is down by 3%, his task is doable, if difficult. If he's down by 9%, his task is essentially impossible. In truth, however, no one knows for sure what kind of polling deficit is insurmountable or even which poll is correct. All of us should act with the proper understanding that nothing is yet decided."

How McCain will be spending the hours before the election? "John McCain will be in Prescott [Ariz.] on election eve, according to the Yavapai County Republican Party," per the Daily Courier. "He plans to attend the party's annual Victory Rally at approximately 9 p.m. Monday on the historic courthouse plaza. The rally starts at 6 p.m. and typically attracts Republican elected officials from around the state." is up with a new anti-McCain ad in Arizona featuring a veteran: "I'm a lifelong Republican, and I'm voting for Barack Obama."  

Big shifts? "The racial divides that have buttressed Republican power in the South for decades appear to be crumbling in this year's elections, loosening the GOP's firm grip on the region, political analysts and independent pollsters say," Susan Milligan writes in The Boston Globe. "The South is still culturally conservative, and the deep South in particular is still challenging territory for Democrats, political specialists say. But demographic changes -- including a migration of voters from other regions, as well as an increase in education and racial tolerance among some younger residents -- have given Barack Obama and other Democrats an opening this year and are likely to change the electoral map in future elections, they said."

Glimpses of 2012? Former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., is doing a five-day fly around for McCain-Palin starting Friday morning with stops in Nevada (Las Vegas, Reno, Elko), New Mexico (Farmington, Albuquerque), Colorado (Colorado Springs), Missouri (Kansas City, Columbia, Cape Girardeau), Indiana (Evansville), Ohio (Cincinnati, Columbus) and Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh, Harrisburg). The trip wraps up Tuesday morning with a rally in Manchester, N.H.

The Sked:

John McCain continues his busy Ohio campaign tour with another four rallies Friday. He begins in Hanoverton at 10 am ET, then it's off to Steubenville at 11:45 am ET, next to New Philadelphia at 1:30 pm ET and finally to Columbus at 5:50 pm ET.

He will be joined at the Columbus rally by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-Calif.

In Hanoverton, McCain sits down with ABC's Charles Gibson.

Barack Obama has two rallies planned for his Friday -- he heads first to Des Moines, Iowa at 12:25 pm ET, then it's off to Highland, Ind. at 9:20 pm ET.

In between, he'll grab some trick-or-treating time with his daughters.

Sarah Palin is in Pennsylvania Friday with two rallies -- first in Latrobe at 9 am ET, then in York at 4 pm ET.

Joe Biden has a busy Halloween ahead of him, too. He begins with a rally in Newark, Del. at 10:30 am ET, then a second in Kettering, Ohio at 2:30 pm ET and a third in Lima at 6:15 pm ET. He rounds out the day with an event in Evansville, Ind. at 10:10 pm ET.

Former vice president Al Gore hits the trail for Obama in Florida.

Also in the news:

Time to seize more than a victory, says Howard Wolfson: "Republicans will argue that the election results were merely a referendum on John McCain's campaign or on George Bush. Nonsense. If this election was merely a referendum on John McCain or George Bush, or even just on Barack Obama, we would not see the gains that Democrats are about to make in Congress."

Wolfson continues: "Democrats should reject this argument -- success in this election, coupled with Democratic victories in 2006, signal that the public has rejected the tenets of modern conservatism -- pre-emptive war, deregulation, trickle-down economics, and cultural division in favor of core Democratic principles -- engagement with our allies abroad, broadly shared prosperity at home, and health care for all."

Politicker's James Pindell charts an interesting course to 60: "If Democrats wind up with 59 U.S. Senate seats on Election Day, they can still reach the magic filibuster-proof number of 60 if the new President appoints Republican Olympia Snowe to his cabinet. The Governor of Maine, John Baldacci, would presumably appoint a fellow Democrat to serve until a November 2010 special election to fill the balance of Snowe's term.

In one of the critical races: "Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole is being sued for defamation and libel by Kay Hagan, her Democratic Senate challenger, for broadcasting a television ad which, in the words of Hagan's legal action, 'falsely implies' that Hagan shares the views of an entity that calls itself the Godless Americans PAC," per ABC's Teddy Davis.

In another one: "A Texas businessman has filed a lawsuit alleging that Minnesota multimillionaire Nasser Kazeminy used his Houston marine company to funnel $75,000 to Sen. Norm Coleman last year via a Minneapolis insurance company that employs the senator's wife," Paul McEnroe and Tony Kennedy write in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

"Coleman adamantly denies the claims in the lawsuit. 'This is a vicious, defamatory attack on the senator and his wife less than one week before the election,' Cullen Sheehan, Coleman's campaign manager, said Thursday."

Sad news: "Frederick M. "Fred" Baron, the plaintiff's lawyer who amassed a fortune that he used to rejuvenate the Democratic Party in Texas, died Thursday at his Dallas home of complications of cancer. He was 61," per The Dallas Morning News' Joe Simnacher.

"Mr. Baron was catapulted into the national political limelight twice this fall, first when it was revealed that he had paid to move the woman who had an affair with former presidential hopeful John Edwards. Mr. Baron had been Mr. Edwards' top fundraiser," Simnacher continues. "Earlier this month, Mr. Baron was granted FDA approval for an experimental treatment in a last-ditch effort to save his life."

The Kicker:

"And ladies and gentlemen, the question is -- and the stakes, by the way, the stakes could not be higher. You all know, you students here -- and by the way, I love your mascot. . . . I call it a donkey. You call it a mule." -- Joe Biden, at Muhlenberg College.

"Since we don't allow knives, you guys are gonna have to carve it with your pens." -- Barack Obama, at a pumpkin patch with this traveling contingent.

Bookmark The Note: