The Fascinating Prospect Ahead of Us

Frank Newport

What a fantastic time we have ahead of us! The presidential election process is about to move from stagnating/static to exciting and extremely fast moving. The American voter is about to be bombarded with sights, sounds, and information from both campaigns and political parties -- and where it all ends when the dust settles is going to be the capstone on one of the most interesting presidential campaign sequences in recent American political history.

We got a little whiff of action this past weekend, when Barack Obama and John McCain -- in separate interviews -- answered questions from Saddleback Church minister Rick Warren, with national cable television audiences looking on.

Now the action really gets going.

It most probably will begin this week with Obama's announcement of his vice-presidential running mate. This will no doubt be timed by the Obama campaign to have the maximum integration with and momentum leading into the Democratic convention, which will dominate next week's news coverage.

Meanwhile, the McCain campaign's brain trust is figuring out when best to drop the news of McCain's vice presidential choice, attempting to gain maximum exposure and presumably to do the utmost to blunt, confuse, or steal thunder from the Democrats' actions. That means McCain could announce his VP pick shortly after Obama's, he could announce during the Democratic convention, or he could announce in the three days between the end of the Democratic convention and the beginning of the GOP convention. Or, for that matter, McCain's people could decide to hold his announcement until after the Republican convention is actually underway.

Regardless of the exact timing, the voter is going to get two vice presidential nominations, and two sequences of four nights of party conventions -- all within the time period from now through Sept. 4.

A few days after that, say about the weekend of Sept. 5-7, we'll know where things stand as a baseline and starting point for the sure-to-be-hyperactive fall campaign. Meanwhile, our Gallup Poll Daily tracking will monitor the ups and downs of the candidates as each day's new events unfold.

At the moment, the race remains very close. Obama has maintained on average a very small lead for much of the summer. McCain has occasionally been able to tie Obama, and Obama has occasionally moved out to a statistically significant lead, but there have not been major shifts in voter preferences. History shows that vice-presidential candidate announcements and conventions give a candidate a modest boost in poll standing -- along the order of 5 points or so (based on the gap between the candidate and his opponent). But the back-to-back conventions are unprecedented, and as each day goes by, it looks more and more like the VP announcements are going to occur right on top of the conventions.

So -- as noted -- there is just going to be a tremendous amount of input into the brains of American voters in a relatively short period of time. How that input translates into candidate support is going to be extraordinarily interesting and important.

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