John McCain came out of his convention with a big bounce, racing ahead of Barack Obama by 10 points among likely voters, while running-mate Sarah Palin‘s feisty attack on their rivals has energized the GOP with an 18-point jump in enthusiasm.
Bounces are traditional following national party conventions. Mr. Obama came out of his with a 4-point lead, turning into an 8-point advantage that has “disappeared totally,” the Gallup Poll reported Monday. Its findings were confirmed by a new Washington Post-ABC News poll that showed McCain-Palin edging ahead by 49 percent to 47 percent, largely as a result of major gains among white women.
Several things are clear in the aftermath of the Republican Convention and the McCain-Palin surge:
c Mr. McCain’s decision to pick the Alaska governor as his vice presidential nominee has united his party like never before. Her candidacy was a 10 with Republicans and Republican leaners - and with independents and women - moving the needle in the Arizonan’s direction.
c The energy index took a big jump among Republicans, up from 42 percent a week ago to 60 percent now. Democrats maintain a slight lead on this measure over the GOP, but the gap has shrunk from 19 points in the Democrats favor to 7 points now.
c The shift to Mr. McCain among likely voters tells us that if the election were today, he “would benefit from a differential advantage over the Democrats in terms of those voters actually likely to turn out and vote,” Gallup said. That suggests the Republican ticket “has the potential for a significant turnout advantage on Election Day,” Gallup said.
c Mrs. Palin’s qualifications to step into the presidency remain an issue, but the number of voters who say she is qualified has risen from 39 percent on Aug. 29 to 48 percent by Sept. 7. That number will continue to rise as they watch her performance in the campaign and in the coming debate with Joe Biden.
All these numbers reflect what I hear from Republican officials who say their base has been energized by Mrs. Palin’s convention speech - suggesting she may have much more influence over the outcome of this election than is usually the case for running-mates.
“Palin is a case of game-changing in Montana and throughout the West. She’ll help deliver the Western states that typically vote Republican and effectively end Obama’s foray into traditional Republican territory,” Montana Republican Chairman Erik Iverson told me.
A big wedge issue this year is guns and Second Amendment freedoms from gun bans and gun control laws that Mr. Obama supported. Mr. McCain and Mrs. Palin, a hunter and lifelong member of the National Rifle Association, will flog that issue for all it’s worth.
Asked why neither Hillary Clinton nor Mr. Obama would carry Montana this year, Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer told reporters in April, “Guns.” That issue resonates across the West and elsewhere in the country where gun control is poison in Democratic politics. Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden have been given “F” ratings by the NRA.
But a larger, more transcendent issue is behind Mr. Obama’s sharp drop in the polls and it has to do with who voters trust more to deal with national security. It is turning into a deadly issue that can hurt Democrats this fall as it has in the past, according to a Democratic focus group study by pollster Stan Greenberg who says his party’s “national security credibility gap is returning.”
“Old doubts about Democrats on security, after diminishing during 2006-2007, have begun to re-emerge,” says a memo on the study, conducted for Third Way, a centrist Democratic advocacy group. Its chief findings: “Voters see Democrats as indecisive in the face of threats and afraid to use force to protect the nation; they see Democrats insufficiently supportive of the military; and they see Democrats following public opinion, rather than adhering to a consistent principled view of the country’s best interests.”
Republicans now lead by 14 points on which party will better handle national security issues, and by 15 points on who would better combat terrorism.
It is not beyond the realm of possibility that some national security issue will rise to the fore between now and Nov. 4 and if it does, Mr. Obama and his party are badly positioned to deal with it with sufficient credibility.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Palin has become this campaign’s wild card and Obama strategists haven’t figured out how to respond to her. Joe Biden is clearly pulling his punches and that itself is becoming a story in this election.
“No one in politics likes something that’s a wild card. So they’re a little bit unsettled. And I rarely see the Obama people like this. Rarely do they concede that they don’t know what’s going on,” Time magazine’s political analyst Mark Halperin said last week on Charlie Rose’s TV show.
The Republicans are highly skilled in the art of political warfare and Sarah Palin, governor, mother of five, a hunter and a firearms enthusiast, is going to lead the charge with both guns blazing.
A sign of her appeal to voters, especially women, was seen Saturday when a jam-packed crowd of nearly 12,000 people turned out to hear her in the town of Colorado Springs that impressed Democratic observers.
Somebody in the Obama high command better tell Barack and Joe that Sarah is coming after them.
Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.
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