On one side is our sometimes too cool, but typically competent president, a man who once again last week displayed his ability to stay calm and centered in a crisis. On the other is his challenger, Mitt Romney, a man with an unswerving penchant for driving all over the road -- making things up as he goes.
Never was the choice in this election clearer than in the approach and aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. So can this race really be so close?
Consider this week's contrast:
President Obama didn't merely tour devastated New Jersey and appear a few times on TV. He provided fast federal disaster relief, positioned federal support personnel, and freed gasoline and equipment from Defense Department to help with the cleanup. Republican governors thanked him profusely.
"The federal government's response has been great," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the keynote speaker at this year's Republican convention told NBC. "I was on the phone at midnight again last night with the president. Personally, he has expedited the designation of New Jersey as a major disaster area ... The president has been outstanding in this and so have the folks at FEMA."
In Virginia, Gov. Robert McDonnell, chair of the Republican Governors Association, "said the federal response was 'incredibly fast and we're very grateful,'" The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
Continued the paper, "McDonnell described Obama as 'direct and personal' in his approach to the disaster, adding that during natural disasters, 'partisanship goes out the window.'"
Meanwhile, on Thursday, New York's stubborn and skeptical mayor, Michael Bloomberg, endorsed Obama for president, albeit tepidly, after earlier insisting he would sit the race out.
Well, first, The Huffington Post reported, he ducked repeated questions from reporters as to whether he believed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should be dissolved. During a June 2011 primary debate, he appeared to suggest just that, saying the states and even private business could handle its tasks (the latest damage estimates for Sandy are up to $50 billion).
Romney's announcement that he was canceling all campaign events proved to be a bit weasley, too. In Dayton, Ohio, an event still billed to reporters as a "Romney-Ryan Victory Rally" did collect canned goods, ostensibly for the American Red Cross -- after everyone gathered was shown the "Vote for Mitt Romney biographical video" from the Republican Convention, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow reported.
There were two other small problems. First, Maddow noted, the Red Cross website explicitly says that "the Red Cross does not accept or solicit individual donations or collection of items."
They take too long to sort. Secondly, fearing the last-minute, compassionate-conservative photo opportunity might come up short, the Romney campaign, Buzzfeed reported, sent aides out to Walmart to buy $5,000 in "donations."
Meanwhile, Romney spent the rest of the week pitching a widely discredited ad that Barack Obama had saved American car manufacturers so that Chrysler could ship American jobs to China, where it is planning to build Jeeps for sale there.
Never mind that it was Mitt Romney who opposed the long paid-off bailout of the American car industry.
Never mind that Chrysler said flat-out that " Jeep has no intention of shifting production'' to China, as USA Today reported.
Never mind that the Toledo Blade, in an editorial titled "Auto Toxin," wrote that "the Republican nominee is conducting an exercise in deception about auto-industry issues that is remarkable even by the standards of his campaign."
Mitt Romney is sticking to his guns. Sticking to his guns, that is, for this week's desperate Big Lie.
The contrast is breathtaking. And so, even with stubbornly high unemployment and an imperfect recovery from the Bush Administration's economic meltdown, it really shouldn't be this close.
And yet, mainstream news outlets continue to insist that the election is a real nailbiter. On Friday the lead political story ran under this headline on the The Washington Post's website homepage, "Obama, Romney claw for edge in razor-close race."
But what if such headlines -- and there are plenty of them -- are simply wrong. Keep in mind that polls are drawing fewer and fewer respondents who will talk to them and that some ignore voters who rely solely on cell phones, a younger group that tilts strongly Democratic. Keep in mind that even the polls show that less-likely voters strongly support President Obama, one reason the GOP has spent most of this year pushing for legislation and enforcement tactics that suppress the vote. But most importantly keep in mind the guys who analyze all polls in the aggregate.
Republicans hate them, and with reason. Because, contrary to conventional wisdom spread by journalists who gain following from hand-wringing about a razor-tight race, the statisticians suggest it isn't that close.
Nate Silver, who writes the New York Times FiveThirtyEight blog now has the odds at more than 4 to 1 that Barack Obama will win on election night. And at the Princeton Election Consortium, statistician Sam Wang now says the probability of the president's re-election exceeds 95 percent.
No, this presidential race shouldn't be this close. And perhaps next Wednesday we'll wake up to discover that in the end at least, it really wasn't.