Friday, September 19, 2008

Look who's got the coattails now


AP Special Correspondent

Presidential nominees do not customarily campaign on their running mates' coattails. But then John McCain discovered that his vice presidential nominee attracts crowds and stirs excitement he can't match when he's solo.

He and Sarah Palin are campaigning together most of this week, as they have much of the time since he put her on the ticket. They're in Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota, with more to come.

It's another break with political tradition in a campaign full of twists. Running mates usually team up for a week or so after their party convention, then spend most of their time campaigning separately to cover more territory. And the vice presidential nominee, by design and in reality, is the understudy, not the star.

While territory is nice, buzz is better, it seems.

And Palin, the little-noted governor of Alaska when McCain chose her for the ticket only three weeks ago, is a sudden celebrity. Her rallies have been drawing bigger crowds than McCain's. When they're together, they split the speech time, about 15 minutes apiece.

On Thursday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, she even put herself first in describing "what we're going to do in a Palin and McCain administration," no doubt a harmless slip but one that's hard to imagine coming from Joe Biden on the Democratic side.

While McCain drew about 3,000 people and thousands of empty seats at a poorly organized stop in an oversized arena in Jacksonville, Fla., Palin was speaking to a crowd of 5,000 that overflowed the hall in Golden, Colo. Democratic nominee Barack Obama was in the same town two days later; his crowd was less than half that size, but it more than filled a different arena where he spoke.

Rating campaign progress by crowd size is an empty game. It doesn't tell much except the effectiveness of the advance men and women who line up the halls and make sure people get there. But for the candidate, and especially for television, a full hall beats looking at empty seats.

No one wants to end up looking like Richard Nixon, whose advance crew was once so bent on making sure no dissenters got into an auditorium that the balcony was empty. Nixon was furious at the bad TV.

For the Republicans, the turnouts at McCain's rallies with Palin are good TV. She starts, he follows, claiming that they are the candidates of change. They've grabbed at Obama's change theme and made headway, even though they are running to extend eight years of Republican rule in the White House.

Palin herself is a change, which may be why the tactic has been working. She's a new face, two years into her term as governor, the first woman ever on a Republican ticket, a rookie in national politics but a skilled campaigner who stays on message, avoids unexpected questions, and knows how to learn and deliver a set speech.

So far, so good.

She will be tested in the six-plus campaign weeks ahead. Among those tests: the Oct. 2 vice presidential debate with Biden.

The McCain campaign didn't get into the crowd game until Palin started helping the nominee draw big numbers. When they campaign separately, her turnouts often are double his.

When they appeared together in Fairfax, Va., this month, the campaign said 23,000 people came to the outdoor rally. Aides said the number came from the fire marshal. A Washington Post reporter figured the crowd at 8,000. Whatever the number, the favorite chant at the rally was "Sarah, Sarah, Sarah."

1 comment:

Laree said...

They sure look better then Oprah's coattails today.