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First thoughts: Palin's pros and cons

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** The case for Palin: For McCain, the biggest thing Sarah Palin brings is buzz. It's something the campaign has been seeking for some time. In fact, it has bothered Team McCain that it doesn't get the same "gee whiz" kind of coverage that Obama gets. Palin changes that discrepancy -- for now. She also helps McCain re-introduce himself as a change-reform candidate. Palin's whole shtick in Alaska is reformer; it's what got her into the governors mansion. Indeed, the Palin pick may signal that the McCain folks have concluded that "experience" as a message isn't a winning one, even though they spent the entire summer developing that argument. So they are hoping Palin helps redefine GOP ticket as change. What's more, she brings a historical first to the McCain campaign. And finally, there's Palin's gender, which the McCain folks hope reopens some of the Clinton-Obama wounds that the Dem convention seemed to heal.

*** The case against Palin. The biggest negative about the pick is that on its face, it looks like a political gimmick, a political calculation. And McCain's supposed to be anything but a calculating or gimmicky pol. Indeed, as the Los Angeles Times wonders, isn't McCain supposed to be the guy putting "country first" and not playing politics? The fact that McCain doesn't know Palin and spent all but a couple of hours getting to know her before making his pick is going to invite A LOT of judgment criticism. The perception is going to be that McCain panicked and wanted to do something radical to shake up the race. Well, he may have shaken up the race, but at the cost of undermining his best asset: that he was ready to lead. This decision doesn't look like it was well thought out, even as Palin has made a tremendous first impression.

*** The vetting question. Just how well was she vetted? There's going to be a race to define Palin, and while the McCain has bought time by shocking the world with the pick, there's going to be a lot of interest by the press to dig around in Alaska. And this "Troopergate" story is perhaps just the beginning. What's more, since she isn't well know, any little thing could get blown up pretty quickly.

*** The age factor: Did anyone notice that there were more mentions of McCain's age yesterday than we've seen in months? Sure, yesterday was his birthday, and the VP pick was always going to serve as a reminder that McCain was seeking to become the oldest first-term president in history. But McCain's age has been an under-the-radar negative for him for some time (just check out any recent poll on the topic). Palin -- being an absolute unknown -- is going to get put through the "is she ready to be commander in chief?" test a little bit more than your average VP pick, simply because of McCain's age. And the more focus there is on McCain's age, the more political danger the campaign faces.

*** The bottom line: Palin has made a good first impression. She appears to be very engaging and has a great story to tell. But her pick signals that the McCain camp wasn't happy where things stood with this race, despite their public posture and their standing in the polls. And they felt the need to throw the long ball. The good news for McCain: Palin will have low bars for every moment she's on center stage (her speech yesterday, her convention speech on Wednesday, and her debate with Biden). But wow -- is this a gamble! Then again, McCain loves to gamble, he's actually someone very fond of dice games, and there's no doubt he's rolling the dice with Palin. A word of warning to Dems, courtesy of Peter Hart: Don't get overly gleeful about all the downsides of this pick. If anything, realize McCain may be falling in a 20-year pattern of shocking picks that end up not backfiring, like Spiro Agnew in '68 or Quayle in '88. Palin may actually be the GOP's destiny. Go figure.

*** Obama's response ad: The Obama camp is up with a TV ad arguing that while Palin might be McCain's VP pick, McCain's real running mate is President Bush. The ad goes: "Well, he's made his choice. But, for the rest of us … there's still no change. McCain doesn't get it, calling this broken economy 'strong.' Wants to keep spending ten-billion-a-month in Iraq. And votes with George Bush 90% of the time. So, while this may be his running-mate … America knows this is John McCain's agenda. And we can't afford four more years of the same." 
 
*** On the trail: McCain and Palin head to a rally in Washington, PA. Meanwhile, in Ohio, Obama and Biden attend a memorial service for Stephanie Tubbs Jones in Cleveland and later do a rally in Dublin.
 
Countdown to GOP convention: 2 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 66 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 143 days
 
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