Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama begin a 19-day sprint to Election Day on Thursday after a contentious final debate that featured aggressive McCain attacks on Obama's campaign tactics and tax plans.
The presidential rivals complained about the negativity of the campaign during a series of testy exchanges on Wednesday that included repeated appeals to average Americans through "Joe the plumber" -- the owner of a small plumbing business whom Obama met in Ohio.
This time, John McCain kept Barack Obama on the defensive.
The feisty Republican tried hard to find a lifeline Wednesday night, challenging his Democratic rival at every turn over his truthfulness, associations and record.
By that measure, McCain won the last debate of the 2008 campaign.
But that may not be enough.
The final presidential debate was a last hurrah, of sorts, for tall tales told before a large national audience by Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama.
The two took familiar liberties with facts in a matchup that also gave viewers a brand-new head-scratching exchange over a man McCain called "my old buddy, Joe, Joe the plumber."
In November 1964, the historian Richard Hofstadter published, in Harper's magazine, what would become a famous essay on some disturbing tendencies in American political life. "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" traced the history of what Hofstadter described as "the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy" that, at different points in America's past, has characterized panics over the Illuminati, Masons, Jesuits, Catholic immigrants, and communist subversives.
I am sorry to burden you, but this is fair notice that I will be sending out morality/patriotism questionnaires to all my friends. I do not want to be blindsided in the future and accused of guilt by association, which is the trendy thing this presidential campaign season.
It used to be that an American could make friends based on his (or her) assessment of someone's character without regard to what other people, including the government, thought about it. Not any more.
Hate doesn't just happen.
Not in life -- as lyricist Oscar Hammerstein reminded us in "South Pacific," in a message so memorable that it became culturally and politically controversial when first sung on Broadway in 1949: "You've got to be taught/To hate and fear,/You've got to be taught/From year to year.../You've got to be carefully taught."
Be honest. What have you learned from the first two presidential debates? Do you expect to be any more enlightened by Wednesday night's third and final showdown between Barack Obama and John McCain?
If you're like my friends and associates outside the newsroom, you're setting the bar pretty low. If these "debates" have proven anything, they confirm our two-party choice is dumb and dumber (you pick).
The Alaska state Personnel Board investigation of Gov. Sarah Palin's firing of Walt Monegan has broadened to include other ethics complaints against the governor and examination of actions by other state employees, according to the independent counsel handling the case.
The investigator, Tim Petumenos, did not say who else is under scrutiny. But in two recent letters describing his inquiry, he cited the consolidation of complaints and the involvement of other officials as a reason for not going along with Palin's request to make the examination of her activities more public.
Danny Yamonico had three strikes against her when she enlisted in the Army.
A back injury. A history of mental health problems. A girlfriend.
She says her recruiter knew she knew she was gay and about the other issues but pressed her to join anyway. At the end of boot camp, her back was aching. She knew she'd made a mistake. She wanted out.
"There's just no way ... I should have been in the military," Yamonico said.
Falling behind in the polls, Republican candidate John McCain hopes to shake up the presidential race in his final debate with Democrat Barack Obama, who will be looking to close the deal with voters unhappy with the country's direction.
Both are likely to emphasize pocketbook issues, a burning concern as financial institutions wobble and voters feel the pinch of a faltering economy. Each released proposals this week for how to boost the economy.