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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

No Olympic Hiaitus

With the Summer Olympics opening ceremony on tap for tomorrow, it’s obvious by now that the hoary tradition of viewing August, and particularly Olympic Augusts, as “down-time” for presidential campaigns has been abandoned, as Carrie Budoff Brown explained in The Politico yesterday. Both campaigns (first Obama, then McCain) have made heavy media buys for NBC’s broadcast and cable coverage of the Games. While Obama will personally take the first week of the Olympics off for a vacation, his campaign won’t miss a beat, and McCain will continue to hit the trail throughout August.
The idea of an “Olympic Hiaitus” probably died once and for all four years ago, when the Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry–considered by many Democrats to have been the pivotal moment in the entire general election–broke out in the middle of the Games.
The big remaining question is whether either candidate will defy the old CW to the extent of announcing vice presidential selections during the Olympics. Heavy rumors that either or both would move on this front prior to the Opening Ceremony have not, obviously, proved accurate. The Olympics don’t end until the day before the Democratic Convention, and only four days separate the Denver gathering from the Republican Convention in the Twin Cities. So the odds have significantly increased that Obama and/or McCain will announce their veeps during the Conventions themselves–an ancient tradition that has been largely abandoned by both parties after 1988, on the theory that a pre-convention announcement will earn “bonus” media attention and avoid distractions from the Main Event.
Still, I wouldn’t be too shocked if either or both candidates (and McCain appears to have decided to let Obama “go first”) unveiled the Veep during the abandoned “Olympic Hiaitus.” For one thing, the theory that you need unobstructed media attention for the Veep announcement is based on the assumption that the choice will be an unambiguous positive development. It’s pretty obvious by now that the most likely options for both parties are vulnerable to reactions of disappointment, either because they are considered underwhelming safe-and-sound figures (e.g., Evan Bayh for Obama, Rob Portman for McCain), or because some element of the party faithful will react poorly. In Obama’s case, any Veep other than the exceedingly improbable Hillary Clinton will generate some heartburn among the HRC supporters who will be heavily represented at the Convention. Veep possibilities like Tim Kaine or Sam Nunn could produce an ideological backlash. And McCain is walking a tightline among GOP conservatives who view his Veep selection as a critical indicator of the party’s future direction, particularly on limus test issues like abortion.
If I’m right about that, then it makes abundant sense for both candidates to get the Veep issue out of the way before the Conventions, if only to let the inevitable grumbling subside. And a mid-Olympics announcement that gets less than total attention from Games-watching voters or vacation-going political reporters might not be a bad thing, either. We’ll see soon enough.

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