ST. PAUL — Senator Barack Obama will increasingly lean on prominent Democratic women to undercut Gov. Sarah Palin and Senator John McCain, dispatching Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to Florida on Monday and bolstering his plan to deploy female surrogates to battleground states, Obama advisers said Thursday.
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign event in Florida, her first for Mr. Obama since the Democratic convention, will serve as a counterpoint to the searing attacks and fresh burst of energy that Ms. Palin injected into the race with her convention speech on Wednesday, Obama aides said.
With the McCain-Palin team courting undecided female voters, including some who backed Mrs. Clinton in the Democratic primaries, Obama aides said they were counting on not only Mrs. Clinton but also Democratic female governors to rebut Ms. Palin — and, by extension, Mr. McCain. Those governors include Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas.
Still, within the Obama campaign and among Democratic officials nationwide, talks are well under way about how the party should treat Ms. Palin in the campaign — and what Mr. Obama and his running mate, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., need to do to regain the offensive after the Republican convention.
Some Democrats were urging Mr. Obama’s campaign not to underestimate the potential power of Ms. Palin’s speech, even among voters not aligned with either party: On liberal talk-radio shows and on left-leaning blogs, some Democrats said the Obama campaign should fight back hard to avoid being caricatured as Senator John Kerry was four years ago when he ran against President Bush. Some party strategists warned that Mrs. Palin’s personal narrative as a “hockey mom” with a special-needs child, would appeal to some undecided women voters.
“What McCain has done with Governor Palin’s nomination is aim right at a demographic that Obama needs to address quickly: noncollege-educated women,” said Mike McCurry, a former spokesman in the Clinton White House. “They need to maximize Biden’s ability to reach out to them, but at the end of the day, it is Obama who has to get that very, very critical group.”
Advisers to Mr. Obama predicted that the buzz over Ms. Palin would fade and that the race would quickly turn back into a contest between Senators McCain and Obama, despite the McCain campaign’s efforts to compare Mr. Obama’s experience unfavorably to Ms. Palin’s. At the same time, even as Democratic researchers pore over Ms. Palin’s record in Alaska, a rapid response team is being created in Chicago to dispatch female surrogates around the country.
David Axelrod, the Obama campaign’s chief political strategist, said Mr. Obama would not raise questions about Ms. Palin’s experience. Mr. Axelrod said the campaign would work instead to impress upon voters the seriousness of the race and continue to try to link the McCain-Palin team to President Bush.
While Mr. Obama did not aggressively challenge Ms. Palin, his advisers opened a new line of criticism to brand her as part of the Republican establishment.
“For someone who makes the point that she’s not from Washington, she looked very much like she’d fit in very well there when you see how she brings the attacks,” Mr. Axelrod said. “They all felt very familiar to Americans who are used to this kind of thing from Washington.”
Advisers to Mrs. Clinton said that she stood ready to help the Obama-Biden ticket, but they urged the campaign not to overestimate the impact Mrs. Clinton could have, noting that she had other commitments this fall, like campaigning and raising money for Senate candidates. Obama aides said the Clinton trip had been in the works before Ms. Palin was named the running mate.
Still, Mo Elleithee, a Clinton spokesman, said he believed she could make a difference with some voters who feel lost in the current economy and who want to see a federal role enacting universal health insurance.
“Anyone who was inclined to support Hillary Clinton typically did so because of her focus on middle-class, bread-and-butter issues,” Mr. Elleithee said. “Her message for Barack Obama on those issues could certainly help the Democratic ticket at the ballot box.”
The Obama camp also plans to keep Mr. Biden campaigning steadily in swing states. Obama advisers said that one advantage they had was that Mr. Biden, as a six-term senator and former presidential candidate, is well-prepared for his single debate with Ms. Palin, in October.
With both conventions seen largely as successes for their tickets, the importance of the three presidential debates — the first of which is Sept. 26 — and the one vice-presidential debate become even more crucial for either side to gain a political advantage, Democratic strategists and elected officials said.
Mr. Obama, speaking to reporters on Thursday at a campaign stop in York, Pa., brushed aside any worry that he might have about Ms. Palin’s criticism of his biography and political record in her convention speech.
“I’ve been called worse on the basketball court, so it’s not that big of a deal,” he said.
Yet Ms. Palin seemed to be on Mr. Obama’s mind. At a rally in Lancaster, Pa., Mr. Obama asked an audience of several thousand people if they had “caught any of the performances” at the Republican convention.
Mr. Obama did not mention Ms. Palin by name, but added, “They may have found some new faces to present their message, but it’s the same old message.”