LENOX, Mass. -- Start the countdown: We're 50 days out now from Election Day 2008. ABC News kicks off its "50 States in 50 Days" tour Monday morning on the "Good Morning America" "Whistle-Stop Express" in the state where -- in a sense -- the last election ended: Massachusetts, where Sen. John Kerry conceded defeat.
But this is the flip side of blue-state America. Here on the opposite side of the Bay State from Boston -- literally Norman Rockwell country, where the landscape is more Anchorage than Cambridge, far from Wall Street turmoil yet feeling its pains -- the sense is more Palin Nation than Obama Land.
Democrats can (and will) ignore the woman in the corner who's making so much fuss. But from the Steaming Tender restaurant in Palmer, to historic Union Station in Worcester, to the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Palin power is in the air -- her freshness just maybe helping Sen. John McCain grab the change mantle that's so key to the race.
"I didn't think anybody would have the chutzpah to pick someone like her," said Daniel Schur, of Westborough, Mass., who came out to greet the train's send-off in Worcester holding a McCain-Palin sign. "That's one thing people from the East Coast and the West Coast forget -- how many people live in the middle of the country."
Maybe it speaks to organization, maybe it's the result of planning, maybe it means nothing at all -- but in the signage, in the buzz, in the chatter, the enthusiasm on the GOP side continues unabated a full two weeks into Gov. Sarah Palin's not-entirely-smooth introduction to the national scene.
(To say nothing of Tina Fey, just maybe a better Sarah Palin than Sarah Palin, and surely a better Sarah Palin than Sarah Palin was a Tina Fey).
(Meanwhile, Palin's opposite number -- remember Joe? -- takes on the task of engaging his friend John on Monday. And Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton hops aboard the "GMA" train Monday afternoon in Albany, N.Y., for her first sit-down interview since conceding the Democratic contest -- and since Palin's emergence -- with ABC's Diane Sawyer.)
It all must be hard for a phenom to watch. But Sen. Barack Obama has first-hand knowledge of the subject.
"One of the things about running over 19 months is that you realize this thing just goes in cycles. Yeah, there are times where you're a genius; there are times where you're an idiot," Obama, D-Ill., tells ABC's Chris Cuomo.
A play on economic unease, in a chaotic time in the financial markets (and notice that Sarah Palin's name is not uttered here):
"You would be hard-pressed to explain to me what John McCain's economic vision is about how he's gonna get this economy back on track," Obama continues. "That, I believe, is somebody who is out of touch with what is -- should be the central question of this election."
Speaking of central questions: "America's banking instability could upend the final 50 days of the presidential campaign, with both candidates forced to confront a calamity that has gotten only glancing attention during the first 20 months of the race for the White House," Politico's Mike Allen writes. "It's no longer an insider's game. The crisis is now at a tipping point where Wall Street will visibly affect Main Street."