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McCain-Palin must lay out economic plan, Obama strategist says

Presidential candidates can't win in '08 without spelling out their vision, according to adviser Robert Gibbs.

By Staff writer / September 4, 2008

Obama adviser Robert Gibbs, speaking at a Monitor lunch in St. Paul, Minn., Thursday, questioned the reform credentials of McCain and Palin.

Mary Knox Merrill/Staff

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St. Paul, Minn.

Sarah Palin gave a great speech. It excited a hall of GOP delegates. But it had an angry tone that won’t play well with swing voters. And it didn’t provide any details about what she – or John McCain – would do to try to fix America's economic troubles.

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That’s what Robert Gibbs, a senior adviser to the Barack Obama campaign, says, anway. He’s in the Twin Cities to watch his opposition’s convention close up and was the guest at a Monitor luncheon on Thursday.

“I think [Alaska Governor Palin’s] selection as vice president was primarily to excite the Republican base,” says Mr. Gibbs.

She may be able to connect on a cultural level with working-class voters. But in this election, a sort of she’s-one-of-us recognition may not actually win those voters’ approval, according to the Obama operative.

“You have to have more than simply a personal connection. You have to have some semblance of what you want to do to get these people back on their feet,” says Gibbs.

The economy has become the overriding issue of 2008, in the Democratic calculation. However, the word “economy” in this context covers many things, from healthcare to education.

“I do think some of the foreign-policy issues have not been as dominant in the general election as they were earlier,” says Gibbs.

Yet much of the GOP convention has focused on security and Senator McCain’s foreign-policy experience. In addition, many speakers have attacked Senator Obama’s lack of foreign-policy credentials and charged that his résumé does not include any executive experience at all.

Rudolph Giuliani and other speakers have also made much of the Democratic nominee’s celebrity status, depicting him as something of an Ivy League snob. “I am sorry that Barack Obama does not feel [Governor Palin’s] hometown is cosmopolitan enough,” the former New York mayor said in his speech Wednesday.

Gibbs claimed that he hopes the McCain camp continues to devote attention and money to such charges. “That’s a bunch of white noise most voters don’t pay attention to,” he says.

Palin is not quite the reformist maverick she claims to be, charges the Obama camp. In her speech to the convention, she proudly noted her opposition to the so-called “bridge to nowhere,” a $220 million federally funded bridge to the sparsely inhabited island of Gravina, Alaska. But she initially supported the bridge, says Gibbs.

“She castigated many people for describing the destination of the bridge as ‘nowhere,’ ” he says.

But it is obvious why the Republicans are describing her in reform terms, according to the Obama campaign.

“I think they understood they had to grab some element of the change mantle. And that couldn’t be done just with a senator that has spent three decades in Washington,” says Gibbs, referring to McCain’s experience.

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