(LEBANON, VA.) - Right off the bat, Barack Obama's words conflict with the message his campaign is sending.
"This has been a good story to write about," he told a news conference in Riverside, Ohio on Tuesday, "And there's always something new. And my general approach throughout this process is not to worry about today's news or yesterday's polls."
Well, Obama may not worry about such things, but his campaign clearly does.
Obama was talking about the Palin puzzle - why so much excitement has been generated around a Republican candidate who many Democrats find not only unqualified to be vice president but further to the right politically than John McCain himself. For days the campaign has been swinging back and forth on what to say about Alaska's governor, and how to say it.
At first, the Obama-Biden ticket lavished praise on the 44-year-old political newcomer, talking about how "compelling" her life story is.
But making nice was not working. Palin's popularity appeared to grow as the polls pushed Obama into second place for the first time. And it was hard to see how anyone but Palin was responsible for the measurable bounce the GOP ticket enjoyed coming out of its St. Paul convention. John McCain is no dummy. He extended their two-for-the-road tour to gain maximum exposure and advantage.
So, Obama has recalibrated. On Monday in Farmington Hills, Mich., this is how he spoke of the Republican's No. 2: "Mother, governor, moose shooter, I mean, I think that's cool. That's cool stuff. But, so they talk about biography, and then they spent a lot of time talking about me. But you notice they didn't talk about the issues."
Obama, who's been dwelling on issues including the economy, energy and education for days now, believes that Palin's appeal is concentrated on the right wing of the Republican Party. They are those beaming delegates you saw on television applauding and cheering every Palin utterance last week. They are not independents nor undecideds. And that's what gives the Obama campaign some hope that this Palin boomlet is a passing phenomenon.
Without raising an abundance of questions about her, campaign aides have encouraged reporters to look into her background -- vigorously. For good measure, the McCain campaign assures us that a busload of Democratic Party lawyers has descended on Wasilla, Alaska, where Palin used to be the mayor. They're not there because Wasilla is lovely in the late summer, though lovely it may be.
Twenty years ago, the Republicans had another relatively fresh face on the ticket and the news media went wild digging into his background. The hunt for the real Dan Quayle became an obsession in some quarters, especially the question of whether he'd enjoyed preferential treatment in getting a valued stateside National Guard position instead of facing the music and heading off to Vietnam. It appeared that he had.
The voters didn't care. Bush-Quayle crushed Dukakis-Bentsen in a come-from-behind landslide victory. Hmmmm.