Republicans shouldn’t mourn the loss of the first night (at least) of their convention. Sarah Palin’s warm reception by the American people and the relative success of preparations to contain the damage of Hurricane Gustav seem to have given the GOP far more bounce than it would’ve gotten from a "conventional" first night in St. Paul.
We’ll never know just how much Barack Obama gained in the polls from his magnificent acceptance speech. He spoke too late on Thursday for any post-speech polling to be effective — and John McCain announced his selection of Palin the next morning.
So the Friday night polls reflected both the bounce from Obama’s speech and from McCain’s surprise — which seems to have neutralized the Democrat’s gains. (That night, Zogby gave McCain a two-point lead; Rasmussen found Obama three ahead.)
Our guess is that Obama’s speech had a huge impact — counteracted by a huge plus for McCain from his surprise pick of Palin.
Meanwhile, making up for the loss of the first night of the convention is the contrast between the chaos that greeted Katrina’s landfall in 2005 and this year’s smooth preparations. McCain, the administration and the GOP Gulf-state governors should all gain. At the very least, they’ve all shown that they’ve learned from the mistakes of three years ago.
Palin is a godsend to McCain. She injects charisma and novelty into what would otherwise have been a deadly dull ticket. She has a compelling record of battling corruption in Alaska — uncovering misconduct by fellow Republicans and beating a GOP pork-king governor in a primary.
And his choice of her suggests that the old John McCain — the bold, fighting Senate maverick — is back. (News that Palin’s daughter is pregnant should make no difference. The governor had disclosed the fact to McCain, and he, like the tolerant and wise person he is, accepted it.)
The Palin pick also aims straight at Obama’s biggest problem: his difficulty in attracting the votes of women over 40. To win in November, a Democrat needs to win this group by a wide margin, yet Obama now trails by four points.
Palin also makes it far harder to paint a McCain administration as a third term for Bush, yet the "Bush-McCain" charge lies at the core of Obama’s campaign.
What will be the next surprise of this remarkable political year?