Is it just me, or is this the most bizarre presidential campaign in modern American history?
Eighteen months ago, John McCain was the front-runner for the Republican nomination. Fourteen months ago he was toast. Seven months later he was the presumptive nominee.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Rodham Clinton was the front-runner before being deposed in Iowa and resurrected in New Hampshire, only to lose a marathon by a nose. A guy no one ever heard of five years ago is now the Democratic nominee for president, and a woman very few members of the Republican establishment have met is McCain's running mate. And that's leaving out all the soap opera twists, turns and rumors of the past 48 hours.
Then, to cap it off, a hurricane hits Louisiana again, almost precisely on the third anniversary of Katrina, the event that marked the beginning of the Bush administration's downward political spiral.
Let's face it: If this were a political novel, we all would have put it down after the third chapter for being too far-fetched.
So where are we now? Polls won't mean much for another 10 days, until the dust settles from the selection of both running mate picks and both conventions. For what it's worth, the Gallup tracking poll of 2,730 registered voters conducted Aug. 29-31 shows Obama up 6 points, 48 percent to 42 percent, while the CNN/Opinion Research poll of 927 registered voters shows it at 49 percent to 48 percent. Take the average of the two and you're close to the 3.5-point advantage that Obama has averaged for the past three months.
The hurricane-abbreviated Republican National Convention is probably a wash. On the one hand, the McCain campaign is missing one of the few opportunities that a presidential campaign has of sending voters a fairly undiluted message during a time when many voters are paying attention. On the other hand, McCain doesn't have President Bush or Vice President Cheney coming to the convention, which would reinforce the "McSame" message of another four years of Bush-Cheney that Democrats have been pushing. Indeed, Republicans and the McCain campaign are falling all over themselves to show that the next four years aren't going to be a repeat of the last four or, for that matter, the last eight. Republicans are doing their best to make lemons into lemonade as far as the Gustav situation is concerned.
The jury is, and will remain, out on McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate. It's either brilliant or insane. There isn't much room in between. A narrative storyline is going to develop in the media. It will be either that she is the fascinating, offbeat, not-off-the-rack maverick female governor from a very curious place that reinforces McCain's change-and-reform message and resonates with suburban mothers with children at home; or that her selection was a half-baked, cynical move by McCain that, while "outside the box," probably should have been left in the box and never opened.
For months there has been a tone to this campaign reminiscent of the Alcoholics Anonymous slogan, "One day at a time." There is no point projecting forward and anticipating what is going to happen next because hardly anything normal has happened thus far.
The most pressing question Monday was whether the story about Gov. Palin's 17-year-old daughter's pregnancy is just an early and minor speed bump or the beginning of a tortuous ride. Between campaign researchers for both parties and a myriad of news organizations, hotel vacancy rates in the Anchorage area have probably dropped to zero. We'll soon hear whether their findings just reinforce the quirkiness and uniqueness of McCain's pick or raise enormous questions of his judgment.
One day at a time.