With the flush of good feeling over his historic victory, Obama will barrel down on John McCain's puttering Straight Talk Express like a runaway train. The night he clinched his victory, Obama easily filled the arena in St. Paul, Minn., where Republicans will hold their convention, whipping the crowd of 17,000 into a rapture of hope and change. McCain delivered a counterspeech in New Orleans that reactively riffed off Obama's signature lines in another sign that -- one way or another -- it's The Year of Obama.
The race will be all about him. Can he connect with the downscale voters who gave Hillary Clinton half -- or maybe a little more -- of the Democratic primary vote? Can he put away questions about his Chicago associations? Is he a plausible commander in chief? Does his rhetoric begin to seem naively grandiose and his unruffled detachment arrogant and out-of-touch?
The trajectory of the race could reprise 1976. Jimmy Carter, the Obamaesque purveyor of a new politics who exploded out of nowhere, led the solid, uninspiring Gerald Ford by as much as 30 points, before winning by a mere 2 points. Obama may lead McCain throughout the summer, but the public will focus on the reality of a President Obama in the fall and the race will tighten.
Only then will we know if Obama is the transformative figure of a new era of Democratic dominance in Washington, or the candidate on whom besotted Democrats heedlessly threw away an all-but-inevitable victory. They have the man they love -- for better or worse.