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McCain needs momentum out of Minnesota

The GOP convention bug has clearly infected the politicos and media of Minnesota. But the question is: Has it been infectious for the rest of the state or the country?

The GOP convention bug has clearly infected the politicos and media of Minnesota. But the question is: Has it been infectious for the rest of the state or the country? One full night may not allow for a fair judgment, but the pressure on Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to deliver a great speech tonight is growing, and the excitement that McCain needs to generate to have a poll bounce off this convention is apparent. 

You can feel the pressure building among the GOP delegates and in the streets. Is this convention going to create any momentum for Sen. John McCain’s campaign? 

Fair or not, having to talk about Palin’s credentials and Hurricane Gustav has knocked the GOP off its game. But all is fair in politics.

President Bush hasn’t helped his party either. The tension created by President Bush’s expectation to appear as the incumbent president, followed by his appearing for just a few minutes via satellite, kept political observers and Americans asking: Just what is the Republican Party about? Not to mention the reminder’s of his administration’s major fumbling on Hurricane Katrina – a massive domestic policy failure – especially when domestic politics are so critical in this presidential race. 

GOP’s slights its most popular moderate national figure

MSNBC host Chris Mathews called Tuesday night “a cross dressing of the Republican Party.” With the inclusion of independent Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman and the addition of former Sen. Fred Thompson, the Republicans slighted their most popular moderate national figure: former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani. Neither speaker generated the same or similar effect as did former Democratic Sen. Zell Miller in 2004 when his speech attacked John Kerry. 

Minnesota has had a tradition in recent years of being a leading indicator for national trends. Whether it was Gov. Jesse Ventura’s victory in 1998 or the impact of the Paul Wellstone memorial in 2002 on national races, Minnesota’s impact has had national implications.

If the McCain campaign is going to create any momentum, here are the three things they need to fix.

1. Palin’s presence. If questions about Palin, including the vetting process and experience, remain the major discussion point of the media after the convention, the Obama-Biden ticket can then continue to focus on other issues. The McCain-Palin ticket must let Palin out from the hiding that she has been in since Sunday. At some point she will be expected to do one-on-one interviews with the national media, and her performance will be highly scrutinized.

2. Loss of maverick status. McCain is not the first choice of the base of the Republican Party, and his choice of Palin has motivated the evangelical base. But he can’t win this election without winning independents by a significant margin. If he doesn’t find some way to separate himself from President Bush and win on issues that the GOP has trouble with right now, especially the economy, there will be no momentum coming out of Minnesota. McCain’s hasn’t regained maverick status; unless he does coming out of St. Paul, his campaign may struggle.

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3. Struggling surrogates. The surrogates who’ve been appearing on most of the media during the convention are not well prepared for the questions about Palin. Their answers aren’t satisfying hosts, especially on issues like whether she is ready to be commander in chief and to what extent she is knowledgeable about foreign policy. Surrogates have to know someone to be comfortable promoting her, and it is clear that few U.S. senators and other GOP leaders have ever met Palin. Surrogates need to be in “promotion” mode, not “defense” mode, because their real job is “attack” mode – which is the only way for them to create momentum for McCain-Palin.

Ultimately, the GOP is likely to continue to say that McCain is the underdog. America likes underdogs, but more than not underdogs lose, and without momentum from Minnesota, McCain will do the same. Just ask the Twins.