I'm not going to make this a "woe is he" posting so much as a set of observations about various factors seemingly conspiring against the Republican presidential candidate. I do believe that his experience and leadership qualities will emerge to the forefront in the final 2 months of this campaign (I'll muse on the hilarity that there actually will be a Canadian election first at some other point) that may help him triumph over Obama, but at this point it's going to take a bit of work to overcome the optical politics that have been at play in recent weeks.
First, the Democratic National Convention was truly a sight to behold. It played really well on TV to have the Clintons go to bat for Obama, it played well to have all the celebrities in attendance, and of course the spectacle of Obama giving an impassioned speech in front of 70,000 screaming supporters at Invesco Field played brilliantly. The Democrats have the appearance of being youthful, vital, energetic, and ready to lead. This comes in spite of their horrid performance in Congress since winning the mid-term elections in 2006, which has left them with a 9% approval rating. That brand of "change" hasn't played well at all, yet Obama's message of hope and change appears to be carrying the day.
So within 24 hours of the Democrats wrapping it up, McCain announced Sarah Palin would be his VP candidate. An astute move, to be sure, as Palin's political credentials will go well with the Republican base, her reformer creds will help reach out to independents, and yeah, the gender card may play a role in winning over some disaffected former Clinton supporters still miffed that their candidate was snubbed by Obama. For 24 hours, the choice dominated the headlines for many of the right reasons. Then came the news that her 17-year old daughter is 5 months pregnant. Despite the Democrats exhorting that they would not go to make political hay out of this, the media is certainly making this preferred non-issue an issue. It's everywhere. Pundits are wondering what else may have been missed in the vetting process. They're loudly hollering about the fact that Bristol is not married and only 17, and revelling in the fact that the VP candidate is an advocate for abstinence education. Whatever goodwill may have been generated by the selection of Sarah Palin as VP candidate has quickly been shoved aside for the gutter politics of sliming her family.
And of course we have Hurricane Gustav compelling the Republicans to dramatically alter their plans for their convention. Instead of receiving wall-to-wall coverage like the Obama coronation, the Republicans have sat idly as CNN et al. devoted a lot of time in the past few days to the hurricane. They've adjusted plans, they've scaled it back, President Bush spoke via satellite instead of live in-person to offer his endorsement of his former rival. The feeling around this convention is reminiscent of the determined soldier getting ready to put his down for another hard push, compared to the sense of celebration and impending grand triumph. Republicans themselves may be completely fine with that--they've been deriding Obama for his celebrity status for months, after all. But optical politics plays a very large role in real politics these days. How much will all of these factors affect McCain's chance at the presidency? Will this matter much during and after the debates? I knew back in 2004 that Bush had it sealed and delivered after the Republican convention; this time, however, it is all very much up in the air.