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First thoughts: Split-screen convention

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** A split-screen convention: As the day wears on, we should be getting more detail on what the GOP convention will look like tomorrow with Hurricane Gustav approaching the Gulf Coast. Already this morning, we have confirmation that President Bush will most likely not be attending. Now that doesn't mean he won't address the gathering; it just means he's not coming to Minnesota in person. McCain and Palin are headed to Jackson, MS, at the invitation of Gov. Barbour, giving McCain another opportunity to not look like Bush. In many ways, while some may think Gustav is some sort of bad GOP omen, it's also an opportunity for McCain to show himself to be more attentive to a situation like this than Bush was during Katrina. The McCain camp knows they have a fine line to walk, needing to show compassion and leadership while also not trying to look like they are taking some political advantage. The fact is, the GOP convention is going to get some attention and the attention they get will likely be focused on recovery efforts and that could go a long way to healing the wounds caused by Bush during the Katrina fiasco.

*** Off the radar: While many folks are wondering how the GOP ticket is going to break through Gustav, it appears they'll get more attention than Obama-Biden right now. Attention to the Dem ticket is nearly nil. They are getting plenty of local coverage during their initial tour and will get some major play on "60 Minutes" tonight. But since the announcement of Palin and the strengthening of Gustav, coverage of Obama-Biden has slowed to a trickle. What this means for any convention bounce is unclear. There was always going to be a weird vibe to the post-convention trip for Obama-Biden simply because attention was going to go to McCain so quickly. With the naming of Palin, it accelerated the drying up of Obama-Biden national coverage.

*** So why Palin? Neil Newhouse, the GOP half of the NBC/WSJ poll, has put together some interesting charts that may clue folks in as to why McCain had to pick a woman. Among white women in the August NBC/WSJ poll, Obama led McCain 43%-42%. Four years ago, Bush won white women over Kerry, 55%-44%. Clearly, McCain is underperforming among white women right now. More than one in three of the undecided voters in our last poll were white women. In addition, the enthusiasm gap between base Obama supporters and base McCain supporters has been cavernous. Anecdotally, the GOP is seeing an excitement in the last 48 hours over Palin -- particularly among social conservatives -- that has them believing they may just yet get close to equally the grass-roots activism they propelled Bush to a second term in 2004. By the way, Palin, speaking in Pennsylvania yesterday, was booed when she mentioned Hillary by name. Maybe that was a good thing to say during the announcement speech but maybe mentioning Ferraro and Clinton in the stump ought to end.

*** McCain's decision-making process: With the news that McCain met Palin once before making the decision to tap her as his No.2, it's bringing a new focus on McCain's decision-making. Clearly, as he's written, he makes many decisions from the gut, and this one is no different. But can the Obama campaign turn how McCain made this decision against him, while not looking like they are pouncing on Palin? It may be the best way the Obama camp can go after this pick. In addition, it's hard to figure out what this pick means when it comes to figuring out how McCain will govern. Does it mean he'll always be a president who makes gut decisions? (Just think again back to that Sunday New York Times piece on McCain's reaction to 9/11.) It's certainly a counter to how Obama went about his vetting process.

*** Palin's previous presidential support: There's been a lot of speculation, fueled by Pat Buchanan, that Palin was a supporter of Buchanan's in 1996 or in 2000. In '99, she was photographed at a Buchanan even in Wasilla, wearing a Buchanan button. Well, here's a letter to the editor Palin wrote that year after that photo appeared. Palin: "As mayor of Wasilla, I am proud to welcome all presidential candidates to our city. This is true regardless of their party, or the latest odds of their winning. When presidential candidates visit our community, I am always happy to meet them. I'll even put on their button when handed one as a polite gesture of respect. Though no reporter interviewed me for the Associated Press article on the recent visit by a presidential candidate, the article may have left your readers with the perception that I am endorsing this candidate, as opposed to welcoming his visit to Wasilla. As mayor, I will welcome all the candidates in Wasilla."

*** On the trail: McCain and Palin go to Mississippi before campaigning in O'Fallon, MO. Obama and Biden begin their day with a discussion on the economy in Toledo, OH and later hold a rally in Battle Creek, MI.

Countdown to GOP convention: 1 day
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 65 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 142 days

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