Post-convention swing state polls are tipping toward Sen. John McCain, the TV pundits are waxing about "The Palin Factor," and Sen. Barack Obama's California supporters are freaking out about a race Democrats were uncommonly confident about only a month ago.
Conversely, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's addition to the GOP ticket jolted Northern California Republicans out of what one described as their "Underground Railroad" existence in one of the nation's most liberal regions. Ever since her speech to the Republican National Convention on Sept. 3, party officials say volunteers have been contacting California GOP offices in numbers unseen since Ronald Reagan was on the ballot for the White House.
Despite generating all this fear and enthusiasm, the Palin Factor hasn't changed the race in California. Obama beats McCain 52 percent to 36 percent in a Field Poll released last week, and neither campaign is broadcasting ads in the state's expensive television markets. On Thursday, Palin canceled her rally and fundraising visit to the state planned for this week.
So Californians seeking to get involved in either campaign have options: pick up the phone, get on a plane, or hop in a car and contact a voter in a swing state that's still in play. Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado are the closest swing states. Most of the Great Lakes states are still up for grabs, and Florida always beckons.
Lizzy Gore was tired of preaching to the blue choir when she was living in Redwood City during the primaries this year and found the same unanimity when she moved to Rhode Island three months ago. So last week, she began an online campaign at thepoint.com where she started raising money for a newspaper ad that would argue that Palin would not be a good vice president. If the online effort raises $21,285, she will buy and place the ad in the Cincinnati Enquirer in swing state Ohio.
"So we're preaching to swing voters," Gore said. "That's the plan, anyway, to create an emotionally resonant message that convinces those folks that Sarah Palin is not who they think she is."
On the California section of Obama's Web site, Welcome to Obama for America
, there is an appeal for the "Drive for Change" program that reads: "As an Obama supporter in California, you can make a huge impact by traveling to Nevada to talk with voters about why Barack Obama and Joe Biden will bring the change we need." The California Young Democrats are organizing weekly road trips across the border, too.
Nationally, major players are starting to readjust their plans to the shifting electoral map. Last week, the liberal online giant MoveOn.org announced it would spend $5 million to $7 million on television advertising - double the amount the 4.2 million-member organization had expected to spend, executive director Eli Pariser said.
"In August, we were at half of 2004 in terms of energy," Pariser said. Four years ago, the organization raised $6.8 million in September; it already has raised $5 million this month. "In the last three weeks, we've seen this enormous surge in energy, driven both by, 'Oh, there's a real race here,' and also by, frankly, the Palin pick.
"That scared a lot of our members and got them off their chairs," Pariser said.
MoveOn's advertising will be targeted at 22 states - swing states, plus what Pariser referred to as "a wish list" of traditionally red states where Obama might be competitive. Its more immediate goal is to register 500,000 under-30 voters before the Oct. 6 deadline in some states.
But Republicans aren't giving up on California. California Republican Party chief operating officer Bill Christiansen said some private polls put the two candidates within five points of each other, and the McCain campaign is staffing 50 offices throughout the state. Four years ago, the Bush-Cheney campaign barely had a presence in California, and spent little money. "But we are fully funded this time," Christiansen said, declining to give a figure.
The state GOP is making 125,000 voter contacts every weekend, "which blows the doors off of what we were doing four years ago," said Christiansen. "Sarah Palin has put a shot of energy into this race."
Last week, the McCain campaign e-mailed supporters to say it was "looking for volunteers who are willing to spend the final 10 days of the campaign helping in a nearby state." But at the San Mateo County branch of the McCain campaign, 300 people turned out last week for its volunteer kickoff event; the turnout was goosed by Palin, organizers said. Now the office is welcoming first-timer campaigners like Phil Lehman, a 63-year-old Foster City resident.
His reason for volunteering: "Sarah."
"There's a realness to her, a believability," Lehman said. "I think she's going to eat Joe Biden's lunch at the (vice presidential) debate."
It will largely be up to volunteers like Lehman to spread the word in California and beyond. From Sept. 6-13, broadcast television viewers in Grand Rapids, Mich., saw 1,120 TV ads from either the Obama or McCain campaigns, according to the nonpartisan Wisconsin Advertising Project. That's 1,120 more than viewers in San Francisco saw.
'The Palin Factor' sparks fear and enthusiasm