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Republicans Hit Restart on Message

Sep 3, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The Republican National Convention finally kicked off in full on Tuesday as questions linger about whether the one-day delay due to Hurricane Gustav will impact the party’s ability to get its message across.
Network anchors returned to St. Paul, Minn. from covering Hurricane Gustav on the Gulf Coast to see Sen. Joe Lieberman urge Democrats to come over and endorse John McCain’s VP pick of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Actor and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson gave a speech ripping Democratic standard-bearer Senator Barack Obama.
Whether the delay makes Republican candidate John McCain’s job more difficult may be answered later today when the first television-viewership numbers for the convention come out.
At a forum in St. Paul on Tuesday sponsored by National Journal, several pollsters said that Democrats had used their convention in Denver to successfully counter Sen. McCain’s campaign charges that Mr. Obama was just a celebrity. They said the event helped to fill out voters’ knowledge of Mr. Obama’s stances and boosted his standing with independents.
Afterwards, one said that the Republicans could be challenged to respond in a shortened convention and could also be impacted if the GOP convention fails to generate the TV ratings that the Democrats scored.
“There is no question that a shortened convention limits the amount of time with which Republicans can make their case,” said Brent McGoldrick, VP-business consulting for FD. “This year is a year when they need more time to make their case not, less time.”
Mr. McGoldrick said the problems increase if viewership fails to match the Democratic convention.
“By definition if viewership declines, there isn’t the momentum into Thursday night and McCain’s speech. Fewer voters means fewer votes and it becomes harder and you have to resort to other channels to get the message out there,” he said.
The worst prospect for the GOP would be that a shortened convention and lower viewership would translate into a smaller post-convention bounce in polls for Mr. McCain, Mr. McGoldrick said.
Republican consultants said they aren’t worried.
“I don’t think it has much impact,” said Mark McKinnon, who headed the McCain ad team until the primaries ended.
Mr. McKinnon spoke after an event sponsored by Politico and the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California. He said the day missed, “was a day where the Republican leadership got to show they were engaged responding to a natural disaster. I think that was a good thing for John McCain and the Republican administration,” he said.
Mr. McKinnon also warned about putting too much stock in convention viewership numbers.
“You can talk about the Obama crowds and that’s a reflection of voter enthusiasm, but if you go back to the George McGovern days … he had much more voter enthusiasm in crowds and lost the election, so attention and viewership doesn’t translate into votes.”
Alex Castellanos, a principal at National Media, Alexandria, Va., one of the biggest of the GOP ad shops, said the delay does hurt but it may not matter much in the long term.
“When you are running a 100 yard dash, you don’t want to stop after the first 10 yards and restart. It steals momentum,” he said. “Unfortunately a hurricane put us on hold and it’s much harder to get restarted again. But it was the right thing to do.”
He said the McCain campaign needs to get on with its message that a change in Washington can bring good things for the U.S. and that the choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the GOP VP nominee shows the party embraces reform.
(Editor: Baumann)

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