There may be no greater opportunity for Obama to show (and need to show) he loves his country than when the throngs greet him in Berlin Thursday.
(That's partly because his fellow American can watch a million Germans march every night on the History Channel -- and we all know how that film ends.)
And as Obama soaks up the love, he needs his country to love him back.
For as well as it's been going, we don't know how this visit ends -- how an anti-war, anti-administration candidate can deliver a foreign-policy address abroad and not seem anti-American; how hundreds of thousands of Europeans can cheer a presidential candidate and not scare swing-state voters; how the Obama shtick plays with a foreign backdrop; how a candidate who is just plain different fills the JFK-Reagan slot in Berlin.
Even Obama knows the risk (as disguised by spin): "I doubt we're gonna have a million screaming Germans," he told reporters on board his plane early Thursday, per ABC's Jake Tapper. "It's a potentially bad thing if nobody shows up. . . . It's sort of a crap shoot."
People will show up. "Hopefully it will be viewed as a substantive articulation of the relationship I'd like to see between the US and Europe," Obama said. (Excited yet?)
But that's not really his entire hope: The truth is, as much as he's winning the imagery wars, Obama needs the visuals.
And the country needs a certain comfort level it hasn't found to date: "Midway through the election year, the presidential campaign looks less like a race between two candidates than a referendum on one of them -- Sen. Barack Obama," Gerald F. Seib and Laura Meckler write in The Wall Street Journal.
The headline from the new WSJ/NBC poll, which has it Obama 47, McCain 41 (same as a month ago): "Fully half of all voters say they are focused on what kind of president Sen. Obama would be as they decide how they will vote, while only a quarter say they are focused on what kind of president Sen. McCain would be," Seib and Meckler write.
We know still that things aren't happy in Sen. John McCain's world -- even the weather won't cooperate with his counter-programming plans. This time it's Hurricane Dolly blowing his message off-course: That visit to an offshore rig, the big Thursday event his campaign had planned to push its main domestic message, is out. (Did Mother Nature just endorse a candidate?)
"Through a series of missteps, gaffes and bad luck, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has endured a difficult week in what has been a choppy campaign," Michael Shear writes in The Washington Post. "He now has no major event to offset Sen. Barack Obama's speech at Berlin's famed Victory Column, where a huge turnout is expected. Instead, he will be in Columbus, Ohio, speaking at a nighttime cancer event."
There's Dolly, and "worse than that, an oil spill closed 29 miles of the Mississippi River," ABC's David Wright reported Thursday on "Good Morning America." "Not exactly the best visual for McCain to make the case that America needs to drill more oil wells."
"I can hardly believe how badly John McCain is getting routed in the television-imagery game," writes The New Republic's Michael Crowley.
It's not just symbolism, either: McCain just might have lost something very big while Obama was handling his baggage.