The Note: Twin Paths

Woodward's judgment: "Too often he failed to lead," he writes, per Fox's Bill Sammon.

(But McCain could look worse: "Everything is f---ing spin," he's quoted as saying in the book, voicing frustration about President Bush's approach to the Iraq war.)

And it could not be a race without a goof: Could the McCain campaign possibly have put up a photo of the wrong Walter Reed, at the highest of high-profile screens?

There are still the fundamentals: a struggling economy; an unpopular incumbent; a lingering war; a country that considers itself off-track.

And yet, after a night where McCain's convention offered his biography in substitute of a vision -- and offered up a running mate in service of enthusiasm -- there was enough of a glimpse of what the race might become.

Gov. Sarah Palin has invigorated the base -- though not yet the nation. "Given the sharp political divisions she inspires, Palin's initial impact on vote preferences and on views of McCain looks like a wash, and, contrary to some prognostication, she does not draw disproportionate support from women," per ABC Polling Director Gary Langer. "But she could potentially assist McCain by energizing the GOP base, in which her reviews are overwhelmingly positive."

Palin has a 50-37 favorable/unfavorable split -- and it's breaking cleanly down party lines. "Joe Biden helps Barack Obama a little bit more than Sarah Palin helps John McCain," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" Friday.

When those balloons finally finish falling from the rafters, we'll find McCain heading back for the path that got him here.

"Mr. McCain firmly signaled that he intended to seize the mantle of change Mr. Obama claimed in his own unlikely bid for his party's nomination," Adam Nagourney and Michael Cooper write in The New York Times. "He used the word 'fight' 43 times in the course of the speech, as he sought to present himself as the insurgent he was known as before the primaries, when he veered to the right."

From here, a return to basics: "John McCain intends to return to his maverick roots in the suddenly-here home stretch of the general election, portraying himself and his unconventional running mate as the real reformers and trying to steal the mantle of change from Barack Obama," Politico's Jonathan Martin writes. "But even as Republicans now have something to get excited about instead of just somebody to rally against, McCain aides still want to keep the focus on Obama. All the attention the Illinois senator has received, one said, has made him take on the role of incumbent."

McCain is "returning to the themes that saved his once flailing presidential quest," per The Boston Globe's Susan Milligan. "McCain last night was faced with the task not only of making as vivid an impression as Obama did, but also of delivering an address that would provoke at least as much enthusiasm as Republicans showered on Palin Wednesday night."

Break out the old playbook: "Cultural affinities, which President Bush played on heavily to paint 2004 Democratic nominee John F. Kerry as elite and out of touch, are now central to the campaign strategy of GOP presidential nominee John McCain," Peter Wallsten and Doyle McManus write in the Los Angeles Times.

While he's at it, he'll take Obama's change, thank you very much. "An act of political larceny so brazen that Republicans hope it just might work," Newsday's Craig Gordon writes of McCain's speech.

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