The Note: Mom vs. Messiah

Perhaps Gov. Sarah Palin is still a normal human politician -- as opposed to a superhero/phenomenon/celebrity (irony alert!) who is immune to the whims of such trivial matters as national media coverage.

But as she returns to her native Alaska on Wednesday -- with swarming Democrats and out-of-town reporters making the landscape a tad less familiar -- she is a full-blown sensation whose appeal seems to grow as the country gets to know her -- good, bad, and everything in between.

If it's The Mom vs. The Messiah -- what does recent American electoral history tell you about who might have the edge among the Wal-Mart crowd? One of Us, or One of Them?

(Will a campaign that beat one female candidate because it understood how the Democratic base thinks wind up losing to another female candidate because it doesn't understand how the electorate as a whole thinks?)

(And will Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Joe Biden fall into tabloid traps at the very time they need to lock down female voters?)

The campaign has grown sharper -- and there's no putting lipstick on this fact: "The emergence of Sarah Palin as a political force in the presidential race has left many top Democrats fretting that, just two weeks after their convention ended on an emotional high, Barack Obama's campaign has suddenly lost its stride," Peter Wallsten and Janet Hook write in the Los Angeles Times.

"Some Democrats are now worried about the perils of Obama's strategy, saying that his campaign, instead of engaging the Alaska governor, should avoid any move that draws more attention to her and could enhance her appeal among the white, blue-collar voters who remain cool to Obama's candidacy," they write.

"Democrats are beginning to worry about losing the presidential election," Bloomberg's Heidi Przybyla writes. "Their best week in four years," says Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., of the Republicans' latest stretch.

Adds Przybyla: "Democrats said Obama can respond by capitalizing on his significant lead on issues, particularly the economy and health care, including among many independents who have become the chief target of both campaigns now that the candidates have locked in their parties' nominations."

This is the time Obama hoped to be defining himself -- his campaign book, "Change We Can Believe In," has just started shipping out, and is rocketing up the Amazon charts.

The upside of insularity: There's no panic in Obamaland. The downside of insularity: There's no panic in Obamaland.

Even with all the Palin scrutiny -- don't forget how many investigative reporters in Alaska right now want to file something juicy (and new details emerge Thursday about library books and that fired state trooper -- more on those below) -- Obama is in an uncomfortable spot.

"Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has found himself in a position he hasn't been in during many long months of campaigning -- on defense against Republican rival John McCain," the AP's Nedra Pickler writes.

It's Obama-Biden 46, McCain-Palin 45, in the new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll -- and a 52-41 McCain edge among white women, in a jump that roughly mirrors the ABC News/Washington Post poll released a day earlier.

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