ST. PAUL (CNN) – Obama senior adviser Robert Gibbs told reporters Thursday he thought the tough tone of Republican convention speeches the night before — including Sarah Palin’s speech - “came at some cost,” and would take a political toll on John McCain's campaign.
“A lot of people came in not knowing who she was - and I think whenever a political candidate makes a speech that is heavy with contrast like last night’s was, that is going to move people to your side, and it’s going to move people away from you,” he said at a Christian Science Monitor lunch Thursday. “That’s not a zero sum game. It comes at some cost.
“I would guarantee that whatever you thought of her last night, if you didn’t have an opinion of her, some people thought more positively of her, but also some more negatively of her,” he added. “I have no doubt a lot of voters had critiques about that speech. Because I think voters are hearing and watching far different things than a group of delegates are.”
He said he thought the truncated convention schedule might have taken a toll on GOP messaging - and suggested that Republican speakers had gone over the line last night with veiled swipes at Michelle Obama. “I think there’s one camp that’s serious about leaving family out of this and one that’s less so, I’ll let you decide.”
The McCain campaign has spent the week on an offensive against what they believe to be unfair coverage of Sarah Palin. Gibbs said discussing both campaigns’ occasionally strained relationship with reporters this cycle was “dangerous territory” – but that the mainstream media could not be ignored.
“This week is a perfect example that if there’s a narrative going in the media, a lot of people are going to hear about it and come to their own conclusions about it,” said Gibbs “I think [the McCain team is] a very tactical campaign that worries about sun-up to sundown on each day rather than maybe a little bit of a longer view. But I’m not going to run their campaign…
He said the reporters should expect more of the tactical media-bashing that took center stage Wednesday night from both campaigns. “I think everyone works the referees,” he said. “I’ve probably sent nasty emails to a lot of people in the room. and I probably will send more…I’m going to continue to work the refs, I think everyone is going to continue to work the refs to some degree.”
Gibbs insisted that the Obama team would not be boxed in by the sexism charges the McCain campaign had used to try to short-circuit some Democratic criticism of the VP nominee. “I don’t think it boxes us in,” said Gibbs. “…I don’t think anyone would want a double standard where someone could question your candidate, but you could not question their candidate,” he said, adding later that voters were going to learn that “a lot of things about Palin are not as they seem.”
Gibbs said Palin was not a significant “game changer,” other than the theory that her candidacy meant the experience argument against Obama was dead.
“I think her speech played well inside the hall last night. I think the jury is definitely still out on …how it plays in a lot of suburban counties throughout the country where we think swing voters will ultimately decide this election.
“But it doesn’t change our strategy at all, we’re still focusing on a much larger political map than John McCain and Sarah Palin are.”
He said the Obama camp believed Palin’s selection would not translate into greater support from Hillary Clinton’s supporters.
“Obviously there are a lot of up for grab women voters - one thing I think I would say about Hillary Clinton voters… Simply having a woman on the ticket doesn’t mean you have or you’re directly going to inherit Hillary Clinton voters.”
Gibbs conceded that Palin would hold a lot of appeal for traditionally Democratic blue-collar voters, a “cultural connection” – and that in response, the Obama camp would be sharpening its economic attacks on the McCain-Palin ticket in the coming days.
“Look, if I was them I’d probably park her in working-class counties in the states where we’re all going to be spending a lot of time in the next few months, whether it’s in the West or the Midwest, or even some of the Southern states that they find surprisingly that they need to contest.
“But I do think they’re going to need more than that and, I think John McCain has yet to make a genuine connection with those people [that] I think they have to do that in order for them to seal the deal, just like we have to as well.”
Gibbs said embracing the culture war rhetoric of Wednesday night had “always been the game plan” for Republicans.
“I think for a long time this is an argument they’ve wanted to set up…[but] I think in this election you have to make more than a cultural connection."