Next test for McCain and Palin: winning undecideds
McCain and Palin fired up their base, but they’ll need to attract independents and some Democrats to win.
Saint Paul, Minn.
A series of forceful speeches at the Republican National Convention this week – particularly Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s roof raiser Wednesday – turbocharged GOP activists searching a gloomy political landscape for something to feel good about.
But the 8-1/2 weeks until Election Day will bring the real test: convincing enough undecided voters, many only now tuning into the race, that John McCain should be president.
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That fight, political analysts say, will turn in large measure on Senator McCain’s ability to wrest the mantle of “change” from Sen. Barack Obama and win independents and conservative Democrats in swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan.
“The shift we saw at the convention was away from a strict reliance on the experience card, to a revamped message that McCain will bring about the right kind of change,” says Lawrence Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota.
“This is not a Karl Rove play-the-base strategy,” he added, referring to President Bush’s former strategist who won elections with partisan wedges like gay marriage and abortion. “This is a really significant shift away from that.”
“Can you imagine how they’re going to shake up Washington?” former New York mayor and GOP presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani called out in his speech here Wednesday, referring to McCain and Governor Palin. “Look out!”
A new television ad – casting Palin as a bipartisan reformer and “Alaska maverick” – underscores the approach.
“The Palin nomination excited and united the base,” says James Campbell, a political scientist at the University at Buffalo, in New York. “Now he has to win over moderates.”
By Professor Jacobs’s estimate, McCain would have to win some 55 percent of independents and more than 15 percent of Democrats – a tall order – to defeat Senator Obama.
The week yielded some encouraging signs for Republicans. McCain’s choice of Palin as running mate drew rave reviews from conservatives wary of the Arizona senator – plus $7 million, the campaign’s largest single day of contributions. Speakers at the Xcel Energy Center here nailed in place the image of McCain as a battle-tested American hero with a proven record of reform, in contrast to a Democratic rival longer on words than deeds.