Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama began recalibrating their strategies for the presidential campaign and reconsidering some of their basic assumptions about which states and voters were in play in a contest recast by McCain's unexpected selection of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate.
In the days after McCain announced his decision, catching almost everyone but his inner circle by surprise, both sides were trying to gauge the risks and opportunities of having a young, relatively inexperienced, socially conservative woman on the Republican ticket.
The Obama campaign and the Democratic Party had prepared advertisements and lines of attacks directed at the two men who had been most prominently mentioned as vice-presidential possibilities for McCain Mitt Romney and Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota but had not considered Palin a likely enough choice to do the same for her. A new advertisement linking President Bush to McCain was quickly put together, but it contained only a fleeting mention of Palin.
That tentativeness reflected what Obama's advisers said was their struggle to figure out how to challenge the credentials and the ideology of a woman whose candidacy could be embraced by many women as a historic milestone. Once formally nominated at the Republican convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul this week, Palin, who was elected governor two years ago, will be the second woman chosen by a major party as a vice-presidential candidate.
Obama's campaign does not plan to go directly after Palin in the days ahead. Instead, it is planning to increase its attacks on McCain for his opposition to pay equity legislation and abortion rights two issues of paramount concern to many women as it tries to head off his effort to use Palin to draw Democratic and independent women who had supported Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
McCain's advisers said that rallying wavering women would be one of Palin's main jobs in the weeks ahead. They said her campaign schedule would take her to areas in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania where there were pockets of women who had supported Clinton in the primaries.
At the same time, they suggested, Palin would also be given the task of appealing to evangelical voters, who have long been unenthusiastic about McCain. In many ways, the choice of Palin may prove to have been as much an effort to drive up turnout among the Republican base as it was a move to compete for women.
"We had a solid Republican and evangelical base," said Charlie Black, a senior adviser to McCain. "But now it's going to be very intense."
James C. Dobson, the influential conservative Christian leader who said in the primaries that he could never vote for McCain, said the selection of Palin had won him over. If he went into the voting booth today, Dobson told the talk radio host Dennis Prager on Friday, "I would pull that lever."
If Palin motivates evangelicals to rally behind the Republican ticket as they did for Bush in 2004, it could prove significant in states like Iowa and Ohio, where Republicans won by slim margins in 2004. It could also have an effect in North Carolina, a solidly Republican state that Obama is trying to win by appealing to black voters and new residents.
Republican leaders in North Carolina, who had been increasingly anxious over Obama's intensive efforts there, said they were heartened by the selection of Palin.
"Our people are excited," said Linda Daves, the chairwoman of the North Carolina Republican Party. "The social conservatives are one area where she is going to resonate."
McCain's choice of a running mate comes at a pivotal time in the campaign. It follows what even Republicans said was a successful convention in Denver by Obama. And it comes on the eve of McCain's convention, with Republicans nervously watching Hurricane Gustav as it heads into the Gulf of Mexico, an unwelcome reminder of how the Bush White House's halting response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 hurt the president and his party politically.
Still, most of the 100-plus members Utah's Republican delegation are still scheduled to arrive in Minnesota today. Those who have asked if the hurricane will impact the convention have been told there have been no schedule changes at this point.
With both presidential candidates having filled out their tickets Obama campaigned on Saturday with his running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware their campaigns have now shifted into high gear.
Obama's aides said that they were confident of holding on to all of the states Sen. John Kerry won against Bush in 2004, and that they were already well-positioned to pick up Iowa and New Mexico, both of which narrowly went to Bush. The Obama campaign is investing heavily to compete on more challenging terrain for Democrats, including Virginia and Florida.
But McCain is focusing heavily on taking two big states away from the Democrats: Michigan and Pennsylvania. Both have blocs of white, working-class voters who are anxious about the economy, a group that has given Obama difficulty and could be receptive to Palin's support for gun rights and the portrayal of her as a churchgoing mother of five who shares their values.
Early concerns among Republicans that McCain would not have enough money to compete have eased. Once he becomes the nominee at the end of this week, he will be eligible for $84 million in matching federal money. That is enough, Republicans said, for him to remain competitive with Obama, who has opted out of the public financing system and its spending limits but has to invest time and money in fundraising in the two months remaining until Election Day.
Obama intends to campaign throughout the Republican convention, visiting Indiana, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. He will pay particular attention to women voters and will continue to press McCain on national security.
At a stop in Western Pennsylvania on Friday evening, one of Obama's biggest applause lines was reprised from his Denver speech, mocking McCain for pledging to follow Osama bin Laden to the "gates of hell" but not, in the view of Democrats, supporting sufficient military force in Afghanistan to capture him.
Obama's advisers said that compared with the mountains of data they had gathered on Pawlenty and Romney, they had far less information on Palin. Their dossier consisted of a thin document based mainly on her run for governor and newspaper clips about an investigation into whether she was involved in pressing a top state law enforcement official to dismiss her sister's former husband from the state police. And, they said, given her short time in high office, there is relatively little video of her readily available.
Aides said the party was sending staff members and allies in Alaska to sort through public documents relating to Palin's time in the governor's mansion, her two terms as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and her two terms as a member of the Wasilla City Council.
Democrats were not the only ones doing some fast regrouping. Republican organizers said the convention aides in charge of reviewing every speech delivered from the lectern are now on the watch for blunt attacks on Obama's readiness to lead. They are aware that such criticism in a high-profile setting would provide an opportunity for Democrats to make the same charge against Palin, who has almost no foreign policy experience and has been governor for just 20 months.
Several Republican delegates said they too were shocked by the selection of Palin and, while they wished her well, were deeply concerned that she did not have the experience in foreign policy or national security to be commander in chief.
"We've been told for the last few months that experience is what matters most in the next White House," said John Scates, a delegate from St. Louis. "But McCain is picking someone whose experience is little to nothing or, at best, unknown. She might be able to pick up that experience I hope she does but right now that's her weakest suit."
In the days ahead, Obama's advisers said they would not just seek to define Palin as extremely conservative on issues like abortion and raise questions about her credentials as part of a larger effort to raise questions about McCain's judgment in making such a critical decision. They will also argue that McCain's decision would prove to be a mistake in terms of appealing to women and that it would hurt him in important battlegrounds like the Philadelphia suburbs.
"In terms of the classic suburbs, it's a bomb," said Marcel L. Groen, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Montgomery County, outside Philadelphia. "So far as suburban woman go, this will not help McCain at all: they're pro-choice and anti-gun."
It is complicated terrain, as aides to both Obama and McCain acknowledged. Any perception that Obama or his supporters were trying to tear down Palin could renew anger among supporters of Clinton.
"I can't imagine the Obama team will spend their time on Palin; they'll spend their time with their negative ads attacking McCain and Bush," said Mandy Grunwald, Clinton's chief advertising strategist. "You always have to be careful not to rally people to her side by attacking too much."
Republicans said Palin would provide an outlet for women angered at what they said was the poor treatment of Clinton by the Obama campaign, the Democratic Party leadership and the news media. Nicolle Wallace, a senior adviser to McCain, said: "I think the public pretty much accepts the fact that they played pretty dirty and that sexism played a role in the primary."
Obama's campaign has moved on a variety of fronts to increase his appeal to women. Leading women in battleground states are being mobilized, and a disproportionate number of female surrogates are being sent to argue for him on television. They are being asked to focus on abortion rights and pay equity, aides said, and to steer clear of criticizing Palin as having limited experience in elected politics and government.
Obama's aides said Clinton would make regular appearances on his behalf to try to fend off McCain's efforts, calling on her supporters to stick with the Democratic ticket.
Obama's campaign said there were now about 18 states in play, including Alaska. In interviews, campaign officials said they would compete there, despite the fact that the name of its very popular governor will appear on the ballot.
McCain's advisers laughed at that. "We're scared to death about Alaska," Black said.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche, Deseret News