The Note: Twin Paths

ST. PAUL, Minn. --

In honor of these two weeks that brought us two new faces and two unusual conventions, there are only two possible paths out of the Twin Cities:

1. Everything is different. (Palin's pop + Biden's bite = Increased enthusiasm/ changed perceptions.)

2. Everything is the same. (Bounce - Rebound = Right where we were before.)

The 60-day sprint upon us, the contrasts offered by the compelling candidates and their extraordinary running mates are stark and clear. In an election defined by voters' desire for change, Sen. Barack Obama is offering himself up as the embodiment of the possibilities, while Sen. John McCain casts himself as the one who can actually get it done.

"It's almost as if the two contenders are running in different races," writes USA Today's Susan Page. "Democrats calculate that the presidential election will turn on bread-and-butter issues. To judge by their speeches at the convention, Republicans are convinced it will be defined by questions of character and trust."

"Advisers to McCain and Obama foresee the same competitive race, but with some of the battle lines redrawn," Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post. "It was McCain, through his selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate and an acceptance speech that included challenges to his own party, who clearly sought to shake up the race and force voters to see it from a new angle. Republicans said Thursday that they think the gamble could pay off."

Surely the talk of change means something has changed -- unless it hasn't.

"After watching two political conclaves the last two weeks, it would be easy to be confused about which was really the gathering of the opposition," Peter Baker writes in The New York Times. "As Senator John McCain accepted the Republican nomination for president, he and his supporters sounded the call of insurgents seeking to topple the establishment, even though their party heads the establishment. . . . But as a matter of history, it is easier to run as the opposition party if you actually are the opposition party."

"A generation apart, both are proclaiming themselves agents of change -- each of a different variety," Patricia Lopez writes in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "McCain says the change he will bring is the kind born of a lifetime in the trenches, of knowing how reform happens and how hard and incremental it can be."

As we return to the real world . . . it would not be a race -- not this year -- without the mention of a Clinton.

It takes a woman to take on a woman: "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," per The New York Times' Patrick Healy and Jeff Zeleny.

(Ceding ground? "David Axelrod, the Obama campaign's chief political strategist, said Mr. Obama would not raise questions about Ms. Palin's experience," the report.)

Just as it would not be a race without the mention of a Bush.

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