From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
ST. PAUL, MN -- NBC's Phil Alongi reports that the Republican convention will go forward tonight, and the theme will be "John McCain: The Person He Is." There will be three major speeches: Fred Thompson will talk about his biography; Joe Lieberman will speak about "the person he knows"; and President Bush will address the convention via remote from the White House. Both Thompson and Lieberman will speak in the 10:00 pm ET hour, while the time of Bush's remarks is still TBD. (Just to give you an idea of what the GOP convention was supposed to look like before the hurricane, Bush and Lieberman were scheduled to speak on Monday, while Thompson and Giuliani, who we guess is now speaking tomorrow, were part of Tuesday's act.) By the way, appearing on "Morning Joe" this morning, Lieberman said this about having found out that he's speaking tonight: "You're sort of like Mariano Rivera in the bullpen." Is he in the VP bullpen, too?
*** The Palin distraction: Judging by conversations we've had various delegates, it's clear Sarah Palin is going to be a big hit inside the Xcel Center. But if there's one thing she's done that's a negative that has nothing to do with the vetting process or her own issues like the revelation of her 17-year-old daughter's pregnancy, it's that she's taken the focus off of Obama. It seems like it's been a month -- though it's been just a few days -- that the RNC or McCain hasn't had a sustained attack on the Illinois Democrat. As we've learned this summer, when this campaign is about Obama, the race is a lot closer than when it's not about him. And right now, thanks to Palin, it's not about him.
*** Looking like an ordinary politician? On Monday, the papers were full of stories about how Palin was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it. Also yesterday, we found out that Palin worked for a 527 group organized by Ted Stevens, who is now facing trial on corruption charges. Then came the news that she has retained an attorney for that Troopergate ethics investigation. And finally is today's Washington Post story noting that Palin employed a lobbying firm to secure earmarks -- which are taboo in McCain World -- for Wasilla while she was its mayor. More than any new revelations about her daughter, the bigger drip-drip danger for the McCain campaign could be more signs that Palin begins to look like your average politician. If you think you've heard that that line before, you have. It's how the Clinton folks tried to brand Obama during the primary season, to no avail. But if the person the McCain camp has branded as a outsider-reformer no longer appears that way, that could be a problem. It doesn't matter how well they explain away each little issue. It's the bigger "she's just another pol" picture that could make all the other issues regarding the pick become a problem.
*** The vetting process: When the campaign decided to surprise the world with Sarah Palin, it had to know it was buying a massive spin job. Our email boxes are now filled with explanations and attachments, and they have nothing to do with Obama or Biden or the Democratic Party. And while Palin's issues are ones the Obama campaign are largely staying away from, it appears the vetting process itself is what's going to continue to get the scrutiny. Was this reactionary pick when Charlie Black and Rick Davis talked McCain out of Lieberman? Did McCain get any true bonding time with Palin where he's comfortable with her in the way he is with the rest of his inner circle? By the way, it depends on your definition of vetting of whether you believe she was fully vetted. No doubt the legal vet was done; the question is whether a political vet was completed. Also, did Obama on CNN last night really attempt to blunt Palin's experience credentials by comparing his management of the presidential campaign to Palin's tenure as Wasilla mayor? That seemed like a stretch and probably only reminds folks of how little executive experience Obama has. Sure, Palin doesn't have a lot of experience, but she's running to be McCain's apprentice. Obama's running for the top spot.
*** Here come the talking points: Speaking of those emails and attachments… Last night, three days after McCain selected Palin as his running mate and also three days after many first learned of the "Troopergate" investigation in Alaska, the McCain camp finally released talking points over the matter to its general press list. The talking points: "Gov. Palin is an open book on this -- she did nothing wrong and has nothing to hide." (Our question: So why did she originally deny that her office had ever contacted former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan about her ex-brother-in-law?) "Gov. Palin dismissed Monegan because of an honest disagreement over budget priorities -- that's it." (She and her husband didn't also disagree with him that her ex-brother-in-law should no longer be employed as a state trooper?) "The allegation that Gov. Palin retaliated against Commissioner Monegan for not firing Trooper Wooten is cut from whole cloth." (So why did Monegan have the impression that the Palins wanted Wooten dismissed?) And "Monegan stated that at no time did Gov. Palin, her husband, or anyone on her staff tell him to fire … Wooten. Monegan told the Anchorage Daily News, 'For the record, no one ever said fire Wooten. Not the governor. Not Todd. Not any of the other staff.'" (But did anyone imply it?) The good news for Palin on this story: The trooper in question may not be of the highest character, and at the end of the day if she is seen as acting in a way that was protective of her family, she might get a pass. But it's never great for any national nominee to be dealing with any official investigation.
*** So no New Year's Eve in Iowa in 2012? Little noticed yesterday given the Gustav coverage and the Palin kid's pregnancy, but Republicans decided to take a step that will give candidates -- and everyone else, it seems -- a breather in 2012 and also perhaps increase the significance of the earliest primary states. "Delegates to the Republican National Convention cemented Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina yesterday as the first three nomination contests in 2012. The adopted rule declares that no state can hold its primary or caucus before the first Tuesday in March, except for those three states. They, in turn, cannot hold their votes before the first Tuesday in February, a stark contrast to this year, when Iowa held its caucuses on Jan. 3, New Hampshire its primary on Jan. 8, and South Carolina its contest on Jan. 19." The remaining question is whether Democrats follow suit. (Of course, they're hoping that an Obama win will make calendar discussion re: 2012 moot.)
*** Also in the Twin Cities: The GOP convention hosts a conference call for reporters at 11:00 am ET. And Cindy McCain and members of her family participate in a ONE campaign event at the Minneapolis convention center at 3:15 pm ET.
*** On the trail: McCain is in Philadelphia, PA and Cleveland, OH. Obama is down in Chicago. Joe Biden is in Florida, where he holds town halls in Deerfield Beach and West Palm Beach.
Countdown to the first presidential debate: 24 days
Countdown to the vice presidential debate: 30 days
Countdown to the second presidential debate 35 days
Countdown to the third presidential debate: 43 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 64 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 141 days
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