Tim Russert would be proud. The attribute most in demand in the early stages of this general election is a quality he had in spades: authenticity.
Yes, this campaign may yet be (and already has been, to an extent) about liberals and conservatives, taxes and wars, the Supreme Court and 527 groups and vice-presidential vetters.
But in the meantime, the rush for reality is on, emerging as the first high-stakes battle in the war between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain -- a race that's likely to be waged squarely in the middle.
Close it will be: We're back to a virtual tie in Gallup's daily tracking -- Obama 44, McCain 42 following the first full week in post-primary mode.
And the casualties pile up in the annals of authenticity:
It means one fewer fundraiser for McCain in Texas on Monday.
A lesson for Obama in why guns and knives are dangerous metaphors.
It means the loser of the debate over debates may suffer more than the usual amount of damage.
(It even may have even cost Paul Tewes his eyebrows.)
And it brought Obama to a church pulpit in Chicago (no, not THAT church), as he continues the delicate task of defining a candidate the likes of which the nation hasn't seen before.
"It was a provocative speech," ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "Good Morning America" Monday. "The first major-party African-American presidential candidate in history took the opportunity of Father's Day to deliver some tough love to the African-American community."
Obama's Father's Day speech "invoked his own absent father to deliver a sharp message to black men, saying 'we need fathers to recognize that responsibility doesn't just end at conception,' " Julie Bosman writes in The New York Times. "In an address that was striking for its bluntness and where he chose to give it, Mr. Obama directly addressed one of the most delicate topics confronting black leaders: how much responsibility absent fathers bear for some of the intractable problems afflicting black Americans."
"The theme of fatherly responsibility is important for Obama, especially now that he is the presumed Democratic nominee for the White House," Jeff Long and Christi Parsons report in the Chicago Tribune. "While his dogma is decidedly liberal, his talk about personal responsibility crafts an appeal to religious conservatives and political centrists."
ABC's Sunlen Miller points out that Michelle Obama was in the front pew, alongside the couple's daughters, Malia and Sasha. "This was the first time the Obama family has attended church since formally cutting ties with their controversial Chicago church, Trinity United on May 31," she writes.
The battle is one where whoever represents the right fit for the "change" label could well win, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's David Shribman writes. "[Obama] looks different, he talks about a world and a Washington that are different, and he ran for president in a fashion that was altogether different (with big money from small donors and a big push in caucus states, many of them small)," Shribman writes. "But then, Mr. McCain is different, too. He looks at the world in a way that is different, and he looks at Washington in a way that is way different, at least from regular Republicans. He is change in a shock of white hair."