10:00 a.m. “What Are Americans Looking For?” is the second forum today in the Humphrey Institute’s America’s Future: Conversations about Politics and Policy during the 2008 Republican National Convention. The discussion is moderated by the always colorful columnist E. J. Dionne (Washington Post, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution). The panelists are:

* Charlie Cook (Editor and Publisher of The Cook Political Report and Political Analyst for the National Journal Group)
* Andrew Kohut (President, Pew Research Center)
* Bill McInturff (Co-Founder, Public Opinion Strategies)

10:20 a.m. Charlie Cook is the first speaker and says understanding public opinion has been a detriment in understanding this presidential election during the last 1.5 years. (e.g. John McCain’s campaign was nearly dead one year ago). Cook explains how this is an election that Republicans should not have a prayer to win – more than 4:1 Americans think the country is on the wrong track etc. However, McCain has a different brand than a typical Republican candidates, and that is why he is running a close race with Obama. Cook says the selection of Sarah Palin for VP is either ‘brilliant’ or ‘insane.’

10:25 a.m. Cook says he overestimated the importance of experience in this presidential race. He says Bush’s low approval ratings have devalued experience as a necessary component for a party’s nominee. This is why Obama has a chance to become President, says Cook. Cook believes McCain wanted to pick Joe Lieberman as his VP — to really stir things up — but was told by enough Republicans that a mutiny would ensue, so he did the next best thing he could do to stir things up — select Palin.

10:30 a.m. Kohut of the Pew Research Center asks whether young voters will indeed turn out and vote for Obama in November at the rates pollsters are projecting. Republican turn-out is also at issue due to indifference towards McCain. Kohut says independents always decide elections, and they are currently about split between both candidates. Independents want to know whether McCain will govern differently than Bush, and they are currently split about 50/50 on this issue.

10:38a.m. Other issues Kohut says are important in this election: McCain’s age, Obama’s inexperience, and whether race will remain a second tier issue.

10:40 a.m. McInturff address the issues Americans are concerned about in this election compared to a year ago. America’s dependence on foreign oil has increased substantially, as have economic issues. McInturff believes, however, that Americans are now starting to get used to $4 a gallon gas. Independents, more than even Democrats, want the U.S. to be less involved around the world – to address the concerns in America first.

10:50 a.m. McInturff finds that in focus groups there is popularity for a more isolationist / Pat Buchanan model of foreign policy, but it receives low support as people do not find it a feasible model.

10:58 a.m. Kohut says the Republican Party has lost its advantage on the issue of terrorism, compared to 2004, but that John McCain has not – he leads Obama by double-digits when asked which presidential candidate could best handle the issue.

11:01 a.m. McInturff explains why independents have a more isolationist streak than Democrats or Republicans. Independents represent approximately 20 percent of the electorate, but do not follow elections as closely as core Democrats or core Republicans, are less education, and make less money. As a result, they do not see the wisdom or benefits of the federal government spending billions and billions of dollars on foreign interests.

11:11 a.m. The panelists are ‘skeptical’ that the Palin selection will recruit uncommitted ‘Hillary Democrats’ in a meaningful way.