Strange Labor Day
Traditionally, Labor Day was viewed as the starting-point for presidential general election campaigns. This year the holiday marks a peculiar juncture in the campaign where a vast number of potentially crucial factors are almost impossible to measure.
Even without Hurricane Gustav, the unusually close juxtaposition of the Democratic and Republican conventions, and the announcement of a "surprise" Republican veep selection, have made it difficult to adjudge the impact of the Denver event, with the smartest analysts suggesting that we should wait until after the GOP event to figure out which party got a true "bounce."
And now Gustav has at least temporarily turned the Republican convention upside-down, all but cancelling its first-day events, and quite possibly altering its tone and message in profound ways. The former effect is a mixed bag for the GOP: mostly what they sacrificed were speeches by the incumbent president and vice president, a mandatory ritual that many Republicans are happy to foreswear. But so long as the atmosphere of national emergency remains, it will be very difficult for the GOP to underake an assault on the Democratic Convention message from St. Paul.
As of this writing, it appears that New Orleans has been spared a Katrina-like calamity. But Republican convention planners can't immediately return to business-as-usual, since it will be a day or two before we know for sure that the Crescent City and other parts of Louisiana and Texas haven't been ravaged by flooding or ancillary weather events like tornadoes.
You can only imagine what John McCain's staff is going through right now in rewriting their presidential and vice presidential candidates' acceptance speeches to reflect hourly changes in the political interaction between the convention and Gustav (and possibly, later in the week, Hanna).
At a minimum, it's very unlikely that the Republicans in St. Paul will be able to launch the sort of negative carpet-bombing of their opponent that characterized the 2004 event in New York. And with the fundamentals of the overall campaign still favoring Democrats, that could be good news for the Obama-Biden ticket.
Let's all hope and pray that we won't see anything like a reprise of the Katrina nightmare this week. But you can't take the politics out of politics, and we'll know a lot more about the dynamics of this most unusual presidential election a week from now.