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First thoughts: McCain to make surprise pick

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
DENVER -- John McCain's done it. He's got the political world buzzing like crazy about a surprise VP choice. Here's what we know: Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney and Joe Lieberman all appear to be out of the running. Of course, these three candidates were the short list, remember? Shows how well the McCain campaign is keeping secrets. The hot name of the morning is Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, someone who has been governor less than two years. The pros of her candidacy: conservatives love her and she's known as a hard-core reformer, defeating ethically challenged GOP Gov. Frank Murkowski in '06. She is WILDLY popular in Alaska. The Cons: Does she pass the commander in chief test? Perhaps Palin is a head fake yet again and we should be looking at folks like Tom Ridge or Rob Portman or even Meg Whitman. Bottom line: maybe the Obama campaign should have put the McCain campaign in charge of their VP rollout since they can keep a secret a lot better than Team Obama.

*** Obama punches back: After the first three days of the Democratic convention, there were two things that some Democrats thought were missing: substance and punch. While it was obvious to most, Obama would handle the substance in last night's acceptance speech, it was surprising that Obama decided to add so much punch. He went after McCain by tying him to Bush, bringing up Phil Gramm, arguing that he's out of touch ("he doesn't get it"), contending that he hasn't done the right things to bring justice to Osama bin Laden, and even using the word "temperament." In short, Obama wanted to convince Democrats that he was no Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, of John Kerry -- he was going to be a fighter in his campaign against McCain and the Republican Party. The speech also served to inoculate Obama as much as possible from next week's GOP convention, where he will become the obvious punching bag. Four years ago, the Democrats holding their convention first turned into a disadvantage when John Kerry played nice while the GOP followed by playing tough. But this time around, with as aggressive as Obama was, could going first be an advantage?

*** A disjointed response: The McCain response seemed disjointed. "Americans witnessed a misleading speech that was so fundamentally at odds with the meager record of Barack Obama. When the temple comes down, the fireworks end, and the words are over, the facts remain: Sen. Obama still has no record of bipartisanship, still opposes offshore drilling, still voted to raise taxes on those making just $42,000 per year, and still voted against funds for American troops in harm's way. The fact remains: Barack Obama is still not ready to be President." Considering how aggressive the campaign was all week before Obama's speech -- unveiling a new attack ad almost every day except yesterday -- to see the campaign left almost speechless shows that they know on this one night they were topped.

*** Blurring the lines: From the policy proposals to the McCain attacks chronicled above, there was something for almost everyone in Obama's speech without it getting too cluncked up. But to us, what also stuck out was the issue blurring for social conservatives who might be ready to vote Dem on economic issues. He talked about the need to keep unwanted pregnancies down, as well as upholding "the 2nd Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals."

*** Over to you, GOP: As we mentioned at the start of the convention, Obama and the Democrats had three goals, and it appears they met them all. Sell Obama and his family to voters, check. Help unite the party, check. And draw clear contrasts with McCain, check. Indeed, after the speeches by Michelle, Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, and Obama - as well as the mesmerizing roll call vote -- this week's Democratic convention might prove to be a hard act to follow. So how does the GOP respond? They'll probably continue to push the fluff argument, as it's worked this summer. And they will obviously play up McCain's maverick credentials and military heroism. But it will be a big challenge for the GOP to match the speeches, the enthusiasm, and theatrics of the past four days.

*** On the trail: McCain holds a rally with (most likely) his new running mate in Dayton, OH. Meanwhile, Obama and Biden (as well as their wives0 campaign in Beaver, PA.
Countdown to GOP convention: 3 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 67 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 144 days
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