It is a tried and true tactic of every presidential nominee: sabotage the fun and festivities of their opponent’s political convention. John McCain and his RNC allies are no exception, and they are getting a big assist from their new best friend, Hillary Clinton.
Sure, the Republicans have invaded Denver with the help of usual GOP surrogates spokesmen, conference calls and websites, all taking issue with Barack Obama’s qualifications, message and VP pick. They have a war room. One McCain advisor neatly summed up the game plan: “Our goal is to remind Americans-not just Republicans but the millions of Democrats and independents who voted for Sen. Clinton, as well-that while Barack Obama may be ready for his close-up, he is not ready to lead our country.”
But front and center in the “oppo” campaign is Hillary. She is the star of McCain’s newest ads. She is the focus of rallies. The RNC featured a Protest Party and a Happy Hour on Monday night — both in Hillary’s honor. (They announced the latter with this comment from a former Hillary supporter: “Even though I’m a Democrat and don’t always agree with John McCain, I support him because he is willing to put his country first. . . Unlike Senator Obama, John McCain has a record of working across the aisle, and, as president, he will bring Democrats, Republicans and Independents together — just like he did in the Senate.”)
It is not surprising that the McCain team would go this route. By stiffing Clinton in the VP selection process and refusing to even go through the vetting motions the supposedly empathetic and savvy Obama has reopened wounds and alienated key female voters. Even the MSM acknowledges he’s got a problem. (Indeed, they are anxious on a number of fronts – how is it, after all, that The One in a dead heat with McCain?)
The hottest storyline from the opening gavel of the Convention has been the Hillary-Obama feud. And the poll numbers are stark: Obama isn’t closing the sale with the Clinton supporters. At times the “subplot” of the Convention seemed to cast a shadow over the main show — oh yes, The Chosen One.
Can McCain’s team steal away Hillary voters, during the week of the Democrats’ Convention no less? A McCain operative expressed confidence: “We believe that many of Sen. Clinton’s voters share the view that Sen. Clinton herself expressed in the Democratic primary, that there were two candidates who were prepared for the presidency, Sen. McCain and Sen. Clinton, and one who was not, Sen. Obama. And we are telling those voters we appreciate and welcome their support.”
And some prominent Democrats like Illinois Senator Dick Durbin conceded that McCain “has had a 12-0 run in this basketball game.” Rep. John Dingell from the key swing state of Michigan fretted that Obama was losing the momentum. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was fuming, wondering to the press whether she had walked “into a time capsule” of primary-induced animosity.
None other than Don Fowler, former DNC Chief agreed:
“I have a lot of doubts that this convention is going to be as persuasive as it should be because they’ve got this damn thing with Hillary … I love Hillary. I was for her. But this is the worst political decision I could imagine. This is supposed to be an Obama celebration. You’re going to get the nomination of someone who came very close to winning and you’re going to get a lot of people in there cheering and hollering and some people booing.”
Even the usually cheery left blogosphere started fretting. They rounded up Howard Wolfson (who was vilified for going to work for the evil Fox News) to offer advice. Others wondered whether the Obama team is too presumptuous. (You think?) The Obamaphiles did seem to seethe resentment that the woman they discarded as VP had a following so strong and a presence so prominent that the entire national press corps could be consumed by her followers’ tales of frustration, anger and disappointment over The One.
With the matter of the roll call vote still up in the air (but probably not going to happen) the potential for more fireworks is very real. The bottom line: the picture of unity is now badly out of focus and the GOP is doing its best to make that apparent to anyone tuning in for the Convention. If Lanny Davis is considering a McCain vote, there are certainly other Democrats looking on who might be considering their options.
Even the New York Times seemed to concede the GOP was having success. A report explained:
But on the first day of the Democratic convention, it was clear to members of both parties that this year will break new ground, with each side planning to run full bore during the other party’s convention. Matt McDonald, a senior aide overseeing the Republican effort, said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the party’s success in inserting itself into the biggest week of the Obama campaign. “Any time we can get our side of the story out,” Mr. McDonald said, “that’s a good thing.”
And all this is possible, even the Grey Lady must concede, because the MSM has lost the news monopoly:
Mr. McDonald, the Republican aide, said part of the difference was the abundance of political news sites, which serve as prompts for cable news networks that reap ratings spikes from new political developments. “Because of the proliferation of news media, there’s more appetite for different viewpoints,” Mr. McDonald said at what the McCain campaign is calling its “Not Ready ’08” headquarters in Denver, which includes much of Mr. McCain’s war room staff from Virginia. “It’s not just everybody watching the main stage.”
The success of the GOP counterprogramming will been seen at week’s end when the polls will tell if Obama calmed fears about his readiness, corralled the Hillary voters and allayed his base’s concern that his campaign has lost its moxie.
For now, Republicans can congratulate themselves — and thank Hillary — for going toe-to-toe with Obama during a week that he was supposed to own.