None of these chance elements are new, but in listing them, Nagourney by proxy urges a generosity for the unexpected tempered by a sharp-eyed awareness of existing (and changing) patterns.

Balz, on the other hand, argues that given Obama’s frontrunner status and the particularly difficult burdens the new president would immediately shoulder (“It is hard to think of a new president who inherited such a rapidly altered landscape”), any undue attention given to the underdog is ultimately selling the public short:

For the past two weeks, the focus of the presidential campaign has been on John McCain. Given the state of the race, it may well stay there for a while. What can McCain do? Should he attack more? Should he go all positive? Can he come back?

With 22 days left in the race, that’s understandable. McCain is the focus because what was thought to be a close race doesn’t look like one at this moment. Which is all the more reason that the real focus now ought to be on Barack Obama.

The presidential race is not over, but at this point, Obama has a better chance of becoming president than McCain, and as a result, the questions ought to be going toward him as much or more than McCain — questions not of tactics but of substance.


Balz suggests, in conclusion, that “there ought not to be any moratorium on asking hard questions of both candidates right now, and especially of the Democratic nominee who sits in the pole position heading into the final three weeks.”

While Balz’s implicit suggestion to forget McCain is dubious, he does strike at a key point: these final weeks may very well inform the extent of our satisfaction in January. Both Nagourney and Balz suggest that the press handle the foregone conclusion aspect of the campaign with more foresight. This includes further (and maybe even harder) scrutiny of Obama’s new plan, and it also includes a more measured look at what the comeback kid is doing—substantively—to really come back.

Jane Kim is a writer in New York.