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Add Mrs. Palin however, and “the dynamic is totally different,” says Mr. Shaftan. “Sarah Palin has become an overnight superstar. Her selection changes the entire race overnight.”

Some Republicans around Mr. McCain think he needs to address the war issue regardless and do it head-on in order to dispel any swing voter impression that he thinks war is the only way to handle disagreements.

He also needs to use whatever television time he gets during Gustav to assure Americans that he is a “much better bet to keep us safe than the dangerously inexperienced Barack Obama whose naivete in dealing with dangerous despots should be cause for greater concern,” Mr. Cardenas says.

Mr. Cardenas, an immigrant who fled Fidel Castro’s Cuba, warns that the danger to Republicans is that the convention won’t dispel the idea that many voters may have “that Barack is less likely to lead us to war.”

“John McCain needs to simmer that contrast and raise the bar of concern about Obama’s inexperience increasing our risks of being attacked successfully, so that on balance he is a better bet.”

Mr. Cardenas, a fundraiser for Republican and conservative causes, says the task for Mr. McCain and Mrs. Palin is difficult at best.

“This messaging is complex and needs to be delivered carefully but convincingly,” he said.