GOP operative gives Minnesota delegates campaign advice

John McCain, the presumptive Republican
John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, gives the thumbs-up after vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin gave her acceptance speech Wednesday night at the Republican National Convention.
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Frank Luntz is a national pollster who usually has a keen sense of what's on the minds of voters. He can also frame messages to make any issue attractive.

When Luntz said he was going to give some tips on how McCain can get elected, the delegates broke out their notebooks. First, Luntz said, is to highlight accountability.

Signs in support of McCain
Signs in support of presumptive US Republican presidential nominee John McCain sit on chairs before the start of the second day of the Republican National Convention at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 2, 2008. Republican Party officials announced earlier today that the convention would get back to business as normal after being curtailed by Hurricane Gustav. The decision to resume normal programming was made after consultation with federal officials monitoring the aftermath of Gustav's path on the Gulf Coast.
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"That value, that attribute is preferred more than anything else," said Luntz. "Accountability is also getting things done -- and if you don't, being punished for it. So there's a positive and a negative for it. Change without accountability is meaningless change."

Luntz also said the public wants a candidate who shows leadership in a time of crisis and demonstrates common sense. His advice to Republicans is to focus on energy -- in particular drilling.

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"The thing that bothers people the most, their biggest complaint, is gas prices. Barack Obama's approach is Middle Eastern oil, because he will not explore for energy on the continent," said Luntz. "He will not explore for energy in the deep sea. And by the way, don't call it offshore drilling -- call it 'deep sea exploration.' Offshore drilling makes you think, 'Is that your daughter there, that she's going to be swimming in oil.'"

Luntz also said surrogates should highlight drilling as an effort to find American oil, American gas and American energy. He said that would show that Republicans want to break the nation's dependence on foreign oil.

"Don't call it offshore drilling. Call it 'deep sea exploration.' Offshore drilling makes you think, 'Is that your daughter there ... swimming in oil?'"

"You use the word American again and again to describe his energy policy, because that's what it's about -- depending on American resources," Luntz argued. "Obama is the Middle Eastern approach. McCain is the American approach."

Luntz also said Republicans should highlight McCain's time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam to showcase his independence.

"For five and a half years, the North Vietnamese tried to break John McCain, and they couldn't," said Luntz. "And if they couldn't do it, no Washington lobbyist can, no special interest can."

Luntz said McCain's biggest liability is his connection to President Bush. He also said the mood of the country does not favor Republicans. He said the GOP should acknowledge a tough economy and say it's their mission to fix it.

Luntz is considered one of the leading consultants in Republican Party politics. Politicians rely on his talking points and focus groups to help frame their campaign messages.

Barack Obama waves to the crowd at Invesco Field
Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama arrives at the Democratic National Convention 2008 at the Invesco Field in Denver, Colorado, on August 28, 2008 to deliver his speech accepting his party's presidential nomination.
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But Luntz wasn't shy about disagreeing with the Republican activists in the room. One asked why they don't highlight McCain's stance opposing gay marriage and abortion.

Luntz said McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin shouldn't focus too much on those issues, because they could drive away undecided voters.

"I want to win people who voted for Hillary Clinton," said Luntz. "And the people who voted for Hillary Clinton may not agree with some elements of the social positions. But they will agree with respect for women. They will agree with the idea of opportunity. They will attach themselves with what Gov. Palin had to say."

"I want to welcome people in," Luntz continued. "And I know that there is only about 7 or 8 percent of Americans that can still be convinced, so I'm looking for those issues that can give 70 or 80 percent support."

That may help explain why McCain has positioned himself during this convention as a maverick, while the Obama campaign has continued to try to link McCain to President Bush.