BARACK OBAMA is again the designated front-runner, according to the polls.
The financial crisis boosts his candidacy since he is the "out" party's nominee.
But John McCain is a gambler and knows that just because the odds are against him doesn't mean he can't win. Maybe an ace will fall from his sleeve. Maybe Sarah Palin will out-perform Joe Biden in the VP debate tonight. Maybe extraterrestrials will offer to buy the federal government for $40 trillion. (Sell!)
But if Obama does win, then what? Surely it is not too early to ask.
Would Obama be extremely liberal or moderately liberal?
Obama often sounds conciliatory, promising bipartisan consensus. Sometimes he sounds typically partisan, which reflects his Senate voting record - 97 percent of the time he's voted the Democratic Party line, according to Congressional Quarterly.
Democrats will increase their majorities in Congress. In the Senate, they might add four to eight seats; in the House, their margin could grow from 35 to 55. Would Obama enact his programs by totally satisfying Democrats while ignoring the GOP? Or would he be bipartisan, crafting compromises that would alienate the far left of his party?
McCain pledges to veto pork-barrel spending. What would Obama veto? If Congress passed tax hikes on 45 percent of Americans instead of just the top 5 percent as Obama promises, would he veto the bill - or rationalize signing it? (Rhetorical question.)
Could Obama unify the country?
We usually rally around our leaders in times of crisis. But are we now so polarized that a new president enjoys a "honeymoon" only with the media - not with the 40-plus percent who voted against him?
Early in the Democratic contest, Obama had an uncanny ability to attract voters of all backgrounds - before it became a two-person race with Hillary Clinton. Then, criticized and scrutinized, Obama lost much of his non-politician luster. Once he built a lead with convention delegates he seemingly went on cruise-control, losing most of the late primaries to Clinton. . . and losing his edge as a leader.
Obama is an exceptional speaker. That's a wonderful political skill. But being a successful president requires decisive action and patient follow-through. Campaigning is one thing; governing is another.
During a crisis that Obama called the worst since the Great Depression, he said, "Call me if you need me." Is he The Fonz kind of leader who wants to breeze into a scene and - with appearing cool as his top priority - make a smooth speech and then float out the door, leaving the dirty, uncool work to others?
McCain wasn't successful in the bailout crisis either, but he's proven that he can forge bipartisan alliances and persevere even when mocked by insolent bystanders. More than any other senator, he has proven that he's not afraid to take risks for his country.
Would Obama appoint "rivals" to his cabinet?
Would Obama ask Hillary Clinton to be secretary of something? Or would Michelle Obama veto that idea, as she reportedly did regarding Hillary for VP?
Obama wouldn't echo Bill Clinton in saying he wants his cabinet to "look like America." But would he appoint cabinet members who think like America - people of divergent views, including those who'd challenge liberal orthodoxy?
McCain said that if elected he'd appoint many Democrats to his administration. Maybe he would ask Hillary.
Would a defeated Republican Party reinvent itself?
Can Republican leaders rejuvenate the GOP by advocating innovative reforms that are compatible with Lincolnesque principles? And will they more effectively reach out to young, African-American, and Hispanic voters?
As Newt Gingrich and other Republicans acknowledge, the GOP establishment succumbed to incumbent-itis. Like Democratic leaders during their earlier reign, many Republicans couldn't resist the perks, patronage, pork, and lobbyists. McCain said, "We went to Washington to change government, and government changed us." Or as Oscar Wilde said, "I can resist everything except temptation."
The Democrat-controlled Congress has a lower approval rating than the GOP, so Democratic members hope Obama will be a new JFK. Republicans still hope for a new Reagan, but after this election they'll be relieved just to be Bush-less.
Meanwhile, McCain finds inspiration from Teddy Roosevelt, the "Rough Rider." TR is the right role model. McCain's ride will continue to be rough indeed.
Todd Domke is a Boston-area Republican political analyst, public relations strategist, and author.