Hurricane Sarah Shakes Up the Race

Hurricane Gustav wiped out day one of the Republican convention on Monday. But Hurricane Sarah delivered a body blow to Barack Obama and Joe Biden Wednesday night that more than made up for it. 

Gustav turned out to be overrated, though reporters on the scene still got very wet and breathless describing the storm.  Hurricane Sarah, however, proved to be severely underrated.

Gov. Palin reached a TV audience of 37 million. This is only one million fewer than Barack Obama drew for his presidential acceptance speech extravaganza. Considering that the Palin speech was  on only 6 networks, whereas Obama had 10 networks covering Invesco Field, Governor Palin proved herself an equal draw, and rewarded the audience with a speech full of memorable lines. Does anyone remember a single line from Invesco?

The sorting out of how her addition to the ticket and her superb performance Wednesday night will change the dynamics of the race will take a few days, but here is my sense of how this will look by next week, after the tracking polls reflect a few days of post convention surveys.

The tracking polls by Gallup and Rasmussen reflect an average of the last 3 days of polling. Both pollsters indicate that yesterday's survey and interviews (conduced Wednesday), occurred before Governor Palin's speech in all but a few cases. So Friday, will be the first day to see any impact from the speech, and it will not be until Monday that each tracking poll will have 3 full days of polling conducted after the convention has ended. Barack Obama received most of his convention bounce of roughly 5 points at the end of his convention and in the days that followed.

In the Thursday tracking polls, Obama leads by 5% in Rasmussen, and 7% in Gallup. Rasmussen has picked up a small bounce for McCain since the convention began, but Gallup has not yet seen it.

I expect that McCain will be much closer by the middle of next week, and may possibly be ahead. CBS is out with a new poll showing Obama's 8 point weekend lead is completely gone, and the race is now tied. This survey was conducted over three days, and had few interviews after Palin's speech.  Put simply, if the CBS surveys are even close to an accurate reflection of what is going on among voters, we  are looking at  a very volatile race at the moment.

Obama rains on McCain's acceptance speech

Senator Obama, trying to dull any McCain bounce, snookered Fox News Channel into doing his long awaited interview with Bill O'Reilly preceding John McCain's acceptance speech Thursday night. Fox could have told Obama no, it will have to be some other date, since Thursday night is GOP convention coverage,  but succumbed to the chance for a bonanza ratings night. Would Obama really have stiffed FNC for the duration of the campaign had they not offered him time Thursday night? I think Obama would have looked  bad if the story got out that he demanded time on that specific night, and refused to come on O'Reilly's show any other time.

Fox will air the Obama interview in 4 parts, so why was it essential to show part one Thursday night? In any case, John McCain had the decency to hold off with his pick of Sarah Palin until the day after Obama's acceptance speech, and ran an ad congratulating Obama on his nomination the night of Obama's big speech. He did not, of course, demand that he be interviewed by Keith Olbermann the night of Obama's acceptance speech.

There is not only a huge character difference between McCain and Obama, but a big gap in class as well, and I don't mean social class here. McCain's acceptance speech audience may be held down by the start of the NFL season, with a game pairing the Super Bowl champion Giants and Washington Redskins on NBC.

After the weekend

The race may look next week just as it did before the two VP picks and the two conventions (right before the end of the Beijing Olympic games) -- a very small Obama lead (1-3 points), and a real horse race with predicable swing states in play.  What may change with the two VP picks and the conventions would be the momentum in the race --  more with the GOP, and a slight shift in the battlegrounds. 

My own view, which is a bit contrarian, is that the Palin pick will do more for McCain with Hillary Clinton voters who are men than with Clinton voters who are women. There may be women in states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan who voted for Clinton and were weak supporters of Obama before the conventions, who might shift to McCain (they may have more in common culturally with  Palin than Obama). But I see little chance that ardent pro-choice Hillary voters will jump ship. Men were more than 40% of Hillary's voters. Sometimes it seems that the pundits believe Clinton only got votes from women.  Similarly, Obama drew only a third of his votes from African Americans, though the conventional wisdom is that this percentage was much higher.

Battleground states

Where Palin changes the race is in the three states I mentioned: Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, all of which were visited by both campaign teams in the last week, and also Wisconsin, which is suddenly getting campaign visits as well. All four states  rated  several mentions in convention speeches when individual stories were played out, including Fred Thompson relating how John McCain, when asked by his captors to name his air squadron mates, instead gave the names of the Green Bay Packer offensive line. The advantage for McCain is that 3 of the 4 states were won by Kerry; only Ohio went for Bush. For most of the primary season, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were not considered to be seriously in play. Having Obama and Biden spending time there now, suggests otherwise. McCain may get a boost from having his convention in another Kerry state,  Minnesota.  Will two westerners on the ticket help McCain in Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico? I suspect it won't hurt.

Transformational candidates

We are dealing now with two transformational candidates, who create lots of energy among their supporters, in the same race.  Obama is a demigod to African Americans, the hard left and many young people. Palin is an inspiration to many women, and conservatives. The momentum may be with the McCain Palin ticket at this point, since suddenly the Republicans will have the ground troops in states like Ohio,  as the Bush campaign did, to compete with Obama's large ground operation.

Rasmussen's survey also shows that the Democrats' partisan identification advantage has fallen each of the last three months, and is now only 6%. The Democrats' lead had been as much as 10% earlier in the year.

The Palin pick lifted GOP support for McCain to the 90% level. Higher support among a growing group is good news for McCain. With some blander running mate, McCain would have been out-hustled on the ground. Now he may hold his own.

Obama benefited from his convention, with support among Democrats reaching the high 80s, up from the high 70s. That is how Obama built his convention bounce.

But Obama has been in the public eye for nearly two years. Palin is fresher, newer, and arguably more appealing, an advantage in a short general election season of but 60 remaining days. A record number of people will likely watch the VP debate, and they will not be tuning in to see Joe Biden.

The MSNBC Obama broadcasting team of Andrea Mitchell, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, David Shuster, and Keith Olbermann, seemed dazed by Palin's performance Wednesday night. And a new Rasmussen poll will make their day even bleaker, as women seem offended by the crude attacks on Sarah Palin and her family over the past five days. Even Democratic women. By a margin of 10 to 1, voters think Palin is being hit unfairly by the media, compared to those who think she is getting favorable treatment.

When the modern day Dr. Spocks Alan Colmes and John Roberts are offering advice on prenatal and infantcare, and scolding Palin for doing a lousy mothering job, the mask is off on the media's need to crush the newcomer who threatens to upset the established liberal political orthodoxy. Selling viewers on the notion that the GOP is the party exclusively for rich white males, and narrow minded Christian conservative bigots now is a lot more difficult.

The Obama team should be acutely aware of the risks to Obama's candidacy if most of the county begins to believe that the major media are in the bag for their candidate, and are smearing a woman (again) on his behalf.  The free media have been working for Obama all year, and people are catching on. After Obama's foreign trip, over half of those polled believed the media was trying to elect Obama.  

Now the damage has deepened with the spectacle of the piling-on with Sarah Palin.  Gov. Palin told Andrea Mitchell on Thursday that her goal is to speak directly to the American people, without a media filter. Mitchell kept asking -- but what about reporters' questions, news interview programs (both a chance for some Gotcha, of course). Palin responded, "In time." Maybe like Senator Obama, she can wait and pick her spot and go on Meet the Press on her schedule, on Sunday, November 9th. 

It is my sense that some in the media (e.g Eleanor Clift reporting that many in the media were laughing at the Palin pick) are either unwilling to grasp how Palin's selection has changed the race, or are, like their team mates in the Obama campaign, overconfident to the point of blindness.

Others recognized the threat immediately and orchestrated the media assault. This effort, is of course, coordinated; the trash tabloids and the most vicious left wing blogs feed the garbage to the mainstream media which then reports rumor or accusation, and demands a response from the McCain team.

The rumor that McCain was going to be forced to dump Palin was building on Wednesday before Palin spoke. It was of course a lie.  John McCain has never abandoned a team mate, and wasn't about to this time.

Starting this weekend, the new dynamics of the campaign will be on display. The fastest growing entrepreneurial industry in America is Sarah Palin products. Obama is no longer the hot candidate. The candidate people will want to see and hear is Palin.

This is something the McCain team well understands, which  is why John McCain will travel with his VP pick this weekend. Who will draw the short media straw and get to travel on the Joe Biden plane?

Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of American Thinker.