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Forecast: High pressure system

"Forecast: High pressure system" Continued...

Issue: "Northern light," Sept. 20, 2008

Picking Palin may help McCain reach independents and moderates, but not for the reasons some have cited. While some pundits declared McCain was trying to reach Sen. Hillary Clinton's supporters with Palin, Sabato doubts that's what McCain had in mind: "Palin's role is to energize the base à la 2004, and let McCain reach out to moderate and independent voters."

Since McCain has scored what Southern Baptist leader Richard Land called "a grand slam" with conservatives by choosing Palin, he's more free to turn his attention to other blocs of voters and battleground states that may decide the election.

Still, McCain has a formidable battle. Sabato summed up McCain's task over the next two months: "He has to define a McCain presidency as not being a third Bush term, and not being as dangerous as an Obama term."

McCain's success in that task may hinge partly on convincing voters worried about the economy that his economic plan is different than the president's policies, but better than Obama's proposals.

So far, he hasn't made that case compellingly enough, according to political scientist and Republican consultant David Woodard of Clemson University. Woodard says that while McCain's free-market ideas will appeal to conservatives, he also has to "explain how Reagan economics work in a global economy."

McCain hinted at that theme in his convention speech, saying he would reform unemployment benefits designed for workers in the 1950s, and emphasize education for new jobs in a new economy. But he'll need to keep developing that message for voters concerned about the bottom line, says Woodard: "If Democrats start hammering on the economy, that's their issue to win with this year."

Another challenge McCain faces over the next two months is a series of presidential debates with Obama. "Rhetorically he [McCain] isn't even close to the match of his opponent," said Woodard. "He's got gravitas, but he's not very exciting when he speaks."

Sabato says it's hard to predict which style-or which candidate-will win over voters. "Sometimes the rhetoric soars and it sells," he said. "Sometimes the straight talk sells. We'll just have to wait and see."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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