THE BLOG
10/29/2012 04:15 pm ET Updated Dec 29, 2012

Race To The Bottom

I had my first sit-down with Barack Obama in his Senate office. The sun was streaming in. He came around from behind his desk with that beaming smile, his tie loosened. He sat in a deep chair, his feet up on the coffee table. I was taken with his confidence, talent, grasp of the issues and buoyant charm: the real deal.

That was early in 2007.

Later that year I sat down with Mitt Romney on the Republican primary-season campaign trail. I had interviewed him years earlier, at his suburban Boston home. He hadn't changed a bit: chilly smile, wary but gracious, well informed, a mix of a steely mind, ferocious ambition and earnest Mormon good will: a class act.

Today I ask: where did those two men go? Or were they mirages? The way both have campaigned this year makes me wonder. Is there something about the presidency--or the pursuit of it--that attacks the character of men and women under its spell?

To read more, download our new weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store. This story appears in Issue 21, available Friday, November 2.