As the great battle of Joe the Overexposed Plumber vs. Barack the Overspending Campaigner rages on (with Sarah the Overdressed Hockey Mom as sideshow), there's another game playing out, just over their heads.
Sen. Barack Obama is now in the enviable position of seeking to become president by looking presidential.
Sen. John McCain, meanwhile, knows that he can only become president by making his rival look un-presidential. (Two Joes -- the Plumber and the Senator -- are being enlisted to help.)
It may be a subtle distinction, but it matters for the home stretch. McCain is throwing it all at him now -- taxes and spending and flip-flops and plumbers and terrorism (and terrorists).
A closing argument (at last) comes together: McCain is portraying Obama as too risky to be president.
"He'll say anything to get elected," McCain said of Obama Wednesday night, per ABC's Bret Hovell.
A line that says just as much about where Obama stands: "I feel like we got a righteous wind at our backs here," Obama said Wednesday in Leesburg, Va., ABC's Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller report.
Regardless of the source of that breeze, Obama is in a stage of his campaign where he can ease perceptions of risk just by showing up. (Or not showing up: He's set to drop off the electoral map for 48 hours, to visit his grandmother in Hawaii after a Thursday morning campaign event in Indianapolis.)
It's 54-43 in the latest ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll -- and the portrait of a president begins to emerge.
"Barack Obama has shored up his experience rating to the point where it now surpasses George W. Bush's in 2000 and matches Bill Clinton's in 1992, addressing what has been Obama's greatest vulnerability in the presidential election," ABC Polling Director Gary Langer writes. "Fifty-six percent of likely voters now say Obama has the experience it takes to serve effectively as president, up from 48 percent after the Republican convention. That's now better than George W. Bush's rating just in advance of the 2000 election."
"Former secretary of state Colin Powell's endorsement provides a new boost for Obama, who has made significant progress with voters as a leader in international affairs," per The Washington Post's Jon Cohen. "But Obama also continues to be lifted by more fundamental advantages, including a 2 to 1 advantage on 'helping the middle-class.' "
New battleground state numbers, from Quinnipiac:
FLORIDA: Obama 49, McCain 44;
OHIO: Obama 52, McCain 38;
PENNSYLVANIA: Obama 53. McCain 40
From the release: "With 12 days to go, Sen. McCain is narrowing the gap in Florida, but fading in Ohio and barely denting Sen. Obama's double-digit lead in Pennsylvania."
More from key states: "With less than two weeks to go 'til Election Day, Barack Obama has held or increased his leads in four key states won by President George W. Bush in 2004 -- Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia -- while losing ground in West Virginia, according to the latest series of TIME/CNN battleground state polls conducted by Opinion Research Corp.," Time's Jay Newton-Small writes.
What's working is more subtle than a policy position: "At the crucial moment of the campaign -- the astonishing onset of the financial crisis -- it was Obama's gut steadiness that won the public's trust, and quite possibly the election," Time's Joe Klein writes. Obama tells him: "I think that was an example of where my style at least worked."