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Palin's bubble: Will it bulge or bust?

Thanks to Sarah Palin, the Republican Party is riding quite the high.  So high, in fact, that if a GOP candidate can't lead in a poll conducted right now, he or she can’t win in November.

Stock brokers will know exactly what I mean when they see the word "bubble" attached to the name Sarah Palin.

The Republican Party is riding quite the high.

In fact, if I were a pollster wanting to deliver good news to a Republican client, this would be the week I’d want to put the poll in the field.

Here's a good rule of thumb for the next few days: If a Republican candidate isn't in the lead in a survey conducted right now, he or she can’t win in November.

The combination of an excited Republican base and a depressed Democratic one has created for the first time in nearly four years the appearance of an environment where the GOP can win.

Burst her balloon?
But big questions remain: Is this Palin bubble going to burst, and if so, when?

And if it does burst, will it be a full-fledged bust?

Will the collapse be reminiscent of famous internet bubble stock drops like and Or will there be a soft landing, like with AOL and Amazon?

I hesitate to speculate too much right now because I believe this political environment is artificial. And it won’t last.

Still, it's clear Palin has dramatically changed the dynamics of this race. With the election just over 50 days away, things could change very quickly.

That being said, Palin has energized the Republican base and that enthusiasm will last through Election Day.

Energy means...
It would take a massive slip-up by Palin to depress the GOP at this point. And this Republican energy means a few things:

  • Some of the traditionally Republican-leaning battleground states (like North Carolina, Missouri, and possibly even Florida and Indiana) which weren't leaning McCain thus far are looking like McCain-leaning states again. There’s already some evidence from good polls that I’ve gotten my hands on which show John McCain in the lead by 5-7 points in all but one of these states (getting good polling info from Indiana has been difficult this year).
  • The Democratic Party’s hopes of winning 60 Senate seats are fading, big time. But will the Democrats still pick up some seats? Most likely. There are just too many open seats for them not to. Virginia and New Mexico are close to locks. And Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire and Oregon are all at least even money if not slightly slanted for possible Democratic victories. But the idea of Republicans losing in places like North Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi, Minnesota and Oklahoma seems much more remote today than it did BP (Before Palin). Having an energized Republican base is just what all of these incumbent Republican senators needed to survive. Of these five races, still keep an eye on Minnesota and North Carolina where improved performance at the top of the ticket could drag Democratic candidates across the finish line. But Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) all owe Sarah Palin a little something extra in her Christmas stocking this year.
  • Remember when it seemed like Republicans were going to be massively outspent by the Democrats on every level, from the presidential race all the way down to ballot initiatives? Well, it’s still likely that the Democrats will collectively outspend Republicans, but it appears those margins won’t be as drastic. This likely has some of the folks at the Democratic committees second-guessing themselves on their decision to horde money to the end. It’s possible, particularly on the House side, that the Democrats might have saved some money too long. Now it’s going to be harder for them to use their money to their advantage in a wider swath of races. It’s probably safe to dial back House Democratic pick-up projections to the single digits. Republicans are seeing more money flow in and some of their independent expenditure groups are going to see bigger last minute budgets.

That’s the good news for the GOP.

The bad news? This is probably as good as it’s going to get.

It’s hard to imagine this Palin bubble growing any larger. It’s now up to the McCain campaign to create a soft landing.

They have done a pretty good job so far of keeping her in the news and keeping the Obama folks a bit distracted. The Charlie Gibson interview has been a Rorschach test for viewers. Those predisposed to liking Palin are happy, and those who are not are pouncing.

She didn’t hit a homerun with her knowledge of key international issues, but the result is survivable for the McCain campaign.

And, in fact, her bad answers on some key questions are serving as more fodder for the left to continue aiming their fire at Palin rather than at McCain.

The Obama campaign is counting on the Palin effect wearing off. They’re hoping that the final month of the campaign will be about Obama v. McCain.

They want Palin front and center
But it appears that the McCain folks aren’t ready to give up on using Palin as much as they can.

A new television ad, out Friday, has the McCain camp attacking the Democratic ticket for its treatment of Palin (with some very dubious examples).

It’s proof that the McCain camp wants Palin in the everyday conversation. They do not want her assuming the traditional role of the veep on the campaign trail – which would usually mean visiting mid-level target states, raising money and serving as a stand-in.

The McCain camp wants Palin to be the story for as long as possible. She both fires up the base and keeps the Obama campaign from spending another day linking McCain to Bush.

At some point, though, this is going to be difficult to pull off. McCain cannot look like he’s hiding behind Palin. Of course, the debates with their focus on the two principles will probably move spotlight off of her a bit. But don’t be surprised if the McCain camp still attempts to keep her on par with the top of the ticket.

I wouldn’t be shocked to see the McCain folks have Palin issue a new debate challenge to Biden, asking for more than one debate. What better way for Palin to show that she’s not afraid to debate (even if she gets her clock cleaned by Biden on Oct. 2) than to ask for more confrontations?

What a race. Two campaigns with two very divergent strategies.

Obama wants to get the focus back on McCain and Bush.

And the McCain campaign wants to keep Palin in the news. 

If by this time next week, Palin is getting this level of attention or greater, then we’ll know who is having more success. Obama’s campaign has always been slow to respond to their crisis moments, but eventually, they usually figure out how to regain the upper hand.

We’ll see if they have another pivot in them. They may have already cost themselves the most important thing during this campaign: time.