Barack Obama, a famous fan of pickup basketball, must recognize his plight: It's two on one now. John McCain drafted Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the star point guard from the Wasilla Warriors, to double-team Obama.
(McCain's team doesn't care if no one guards Joe Biden, who seems to spend most of his time yelling to the media, "I'm open! I'm open!" But when he gets the ball, all he does is talk about what a great player he is and dribble in place.)
So after the halftime show of the political conventions, to strain the sports metaphor a bit further, it looks as if the change-up in strategy has Team Obama rattled and in danger of choking. Polls - the closest thing we have to a scoreboard - show that McCain, at least temporarily, has taken the lead. On Tuesday, the Real Clear Politics average of national polls showed McCain ahead by a razor-thin (and statistically meaningless) 2.9 percentage points. The USA Today-Gallup poll had McCain leading by a whopping 10 points among likely voters (and four points among registered voters), though that's almost surely an overstatement.
The McCain-Palin convention bounce also all but closed the ticket's gender gap. According to Rasmussen Reports, Obama had a 14-point lead among women; now it's three. According to the latest ABC/Washington Post poll, McCain now has a 12-point lead among white women.
Still, there's a lot of pressure on Sarah Barracuda. Called up from the political minors, she could yet wilt under the hot lights. But that's looking less and less likely.
The outrageous attacks on Palin out of the block (She banned books! She opposed family planning education! She's a creationist!) have missed the mark. And the eagerness of the mainstream media to go after her family life has backfired as well. For instance, Hanna Rosin wrote sneeringly in Slate magazine of Palin's "wreck of a home life." Would Slate say that Obama, conceived out of wedlock to a teen mom, comes from a "wreck" of a family? I somehow doubt it.
Palin's more sober critics, mostly on the right, worried that picking her would undermine McCain's claim to "experience." Almost the exact opposite has happened. Thanks to the double-team strategy, Obama has found himself in the awkward position of sounding as if he's running against the GOP's vice presidential nominee. When Obama compared his own experience to Palin's tenure as mayor of Wasilla (leaving out her current job as governor), he ran right into the pick the McCain campaign had set, leaving McCain a clearer path to victory.