ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Listening to the speeches at the GOP convention here, what becomes clear is that the McCain campaign -- as did the failed Hillary Clinton Democratic primary bid -- sees Barack Obama's soaring rhetoric as a weapon to be used against him.
But in the view of the McCain messaging department, Clinton went about it the wrong way. Clinton attacked Obama's speeches as "just words." McCain's team wants to emphasize how wonderful the words in Obama's speeches are and then take the next step -- asking him what else he's got.
The point of this latest permutation for the McCain troops is to give Obama his due for his eloquence -- and then argue that McCain has a robust track record in a number of areas that shows he can change how business is done in Washington while Obama has accomplished far less.
Instead of trying to tear down Obama's aspirational words, which people like, McCain and company want to push over the top the notion that Obama is a celebrity speaker in a league of his own.
We heard a sample of that strategy in ads that started running a few weeks ago and in Sarah Palin's vice presidential acceptance speech when she said, "We've all heard his dramatic speeches before devoted followers, and there is much to like and admire about our opponent.
" . . . But when the cloud of rhetoric has passed, when the roar of the crowd fades away, when the stadium lights go out and those styrofoam Greek columns are hauled back to some studio lot -- when that happens, what exactly is our opponent's plan?
"What does he actually seek to accomplish after he's done turning back the waters and healing the planet?" Palin said.
On Thursday, former Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge pushed ahead with the strategy when he said of Obama -- not by name, "It's not about talking pretty, it's about talking straight."
When Obama uses grandiose language, the McCain point is not to mock him as the Clinton crew did -- it's not that you want to say, "hey, he doesn't give a good speech," because he does. That was what the Hillary campaign mistakenly tried to do. It tried to say "those are just words.''
But if you say, "Oh my God, that is amazing," McCain's folks are working it so people will then say, "OK . . . and?"
Said senior McCain adviser Matt McDonald: "The question we will pose to Americans is: Once the speech is over, once the lights go out, once the temple has been put away, what is left? That's a question that Barack Obama cannot answer because he has no record."
Footnote: Obama senior adviser Robert Gibbs, meeting with reporters on Thursday, was asked if Palin's surprise appointment changes the Obama game plan.
"I do think her selection is primarily a selection to excite the Republican base," said Gibbs.
"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, say suburban counties, throughout the country where we think swing voters will ultimately decide this election. It doesn't change our strategy at all."