Obama, Palin Fight for Campaign Momentum

Spotlight on Palin as Obama fights to regain campaign momentum.

Sept. 11, 2008 — -- Rival presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain took a break from partisan attacks Thursday, appearing together briefly at a Sept. 11 event at ground zero in New York.

However, the spotlight rests on Republican vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin, who sits down with ABC News' Charles Gibson for a series of interviews airing Thursday and Friday -- her first national television one-on-one since becoming the GOP VP candidate.

Watch Charles Gibson's exclusive interviews with Gov. Sarah Palin tonight on "Nightline." Tune in Friday for more on "Good Morning America" at 7 a.m. ET. See more on "World News" and "20/20," which will broadcast a one-hour special edition at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT.

It's been only 13 days since Palin burst onto the national stage as Republican presidential candidate John McCain's ticket mate.

Yet the woman who was Alaska's governor for 21 months has reset the 2008 presidential election campaign, creating a McCain surge in the polls and making inroads in the enthusiasm gap once enjoyed by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

"The initiative has gone to the Republican side at this point," argued Republican pollster David Winston. "The question will be whether Palin can keep it going."

Palin has re-energized McCain's campaign, which has made sudden strides in gaining support from white women who are attracted to Palin's "hockey mom" persona, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.

She has been working with a team of Republican advisers to cram for the interviews and the debates, including many who worked for President Bush, such as Nicolle Wallace, Tucker Eskew and Tracey Schmitt.

She has started carrying index cards with talking points, and briefing books on energy, foreign relations and the budget, reported The Wall Street Journal Thursday.

Meanwhile, Obama this week was put on the defensive after Republicans launched a series of negative attacks against him, accusing him of calling Palin "a pig" after he characterized the McCain-Palin policies as "lipstick on a pig" -- a common phrase McCain once used to describe Sen. Hillary Clinton's policies.

Democratic strategists argue that Obama needs to try to get the momentum back by focusing on one central message, and cementing his support among blue-collar workers and women in key battlegrounds states.

"This election will be a battle for the hearts of the Wal-Mart moms -- working women with kids in the exurbs and rural America," said Chris Lehane, a former Democratic strategist who worked on Al Gore's 2000 presidential bid.

"The McCain campaign's entire last three weeks -- the Palin pick, the convention and this week have been focused on this Wal-Mart Mom electoral strategy -- all about speaking directly into the living rooms of these key swing voters," Lehane said.

Bill Clinton to Campaign for Obama

Obama has tapped former President Bill Clinton to campaign for him over the next eight weeks.

The former president was used to rally rural Americans and blue-collar workers to his wife's primary campaign earlier this year.

Obama met with Clinton Thursday for lunch at his New York office, putting aside reported tensions between the two men after a bitterly fought Democratic primary.

"I'm going out this month," Clinton told reporters Thursday, "as soon as my Global Initiative is over, I'm going out."

"We're putting him to work," Obama said.

Palin Re-energizes McCain Campaign

The McCain campaign is delighted with how Palin is performing in public, even keeping her by McCain's side at campaign events that swelled to an estimated 23,000 people Wednesday in Fairfax, Va. -- crowds more common to Obama events.

"She's just got that common touch that's really resonating with women especially, who identify with her," said Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster and president of WomanTrend Inc.

Conway argues that many women are drawn to Palin on the ticket because they can identify with her life experience.

"She is the composite of many different women; she's a working mother and wife," Conway said.

Other Republican strategists say Palin could help McCain in key battleground states, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia -- states with many blue-collar voters.

"She helps him immensely with independents, married women, women with kids and the sort of blue-collar voter that Obama really had trouble winning during the primary campaign," Winston said.

Refocusing 'Change' Message

Democrats argue that Obama must challenge the McCain campaign's attempt at positioning the Republican nominee ticket as a "safer," more "comfortable" version of the change message that has resonated with a majority of voters throughout this election cycle.

"For Obama, I do think Democrats need to take a page out of 'Braveheart,' when William Wallace admonished his troops to stand brave and hold the line as the English charged on the Scots," Lehane said, arguing that the Obama campaign "needs some simple, big ideas that animate the change message coupled with creative events that put in place a message delivery vehicle that gets people's attention."

Winston said Obama lost an opportunity during his acceptance speech two weeks ago that drew 84,000 people to Denver's Invesco Mile High Stadium and another 37 million who watched on television.

"Part of the problem he had in his speech was it was like a laundry list of policy ideas he had without a clear, central message," Winston said.

"He's going to have to sharpen what his message is saying," Winston said, arguing Palin's message about her Alaska roots has reached voters in need of a clear, simple campaign message.

Ultimately, Democrats said, Obama needs to get McCain back on the defensive.

"Keeping McCain on the defensive stops McCain from raising questions about Obama, and keeping McCain on the defensive will make clear that he is not the change candidate," Lehane said.

Spotlight Focused on Palin

The spotlight remains on Palin as she undergoes a series of unscripted, one-on-one media interviews with journalists hungry to identify her positions on serious policy questions and expose any weaknesses. She also faces an Oct. 2 vice presidential debate against longtime senator and two-time presidential candidate Joe Biden.

"So far, Palin has been clearing these hurdles, but this interview is a big deal and could pose a challenge for her," said David Winston, a Republican pollster and strategist.

"The question is, how will she handle questions that she might not like in terms of the way they were framed," Winston said.

But so far, Winston noted, Palin has exceeded expectations in key campaign moments, including her acceptance speech at the Republican Convention last week, which won her rave reviews from the GOP base and political pundits.

"She's [shown] that she can do well, and she needs to continue to do that," Winston said.