Writing for USA Today, Chuck Raasch sees a lot more uncertainty than usual in the electorate — not regarding who they’ll vote for but what they expect their vote to bring. Despite efforts to cast Barack Obama as a raging liberal and John McCain as a Bush clone, these guys aren’t that simple and all but the most strident partisans truly believe they have either of these men totally figured out.

Raasch writes:

Americans’ primary leadership choices are between a gifted but untested-in-office young senator, and a veteran man of service whose erratic response in the economic crisis’s opening act undercut his tested and tough image.

If elected, would Obama govern from the ideological center, or from the left? Would he go along with an emboldened Democratic majority in Congress, or battle with it on spending priorities? Is he strong enough to withstand the foreign policy crisis his running mate, Joe Biden, has guaranteed is coming? Biden says Obama has “steel in his spine.” What test in Obama’s public life has demonstrated that?

If elected, would McCain and his temperament be suitable for the challenges facing the next president? Would he truly put “country first,” as his ads imply, and push for compromises to address serious economic and foreign policy challenges? Or would he unleash his veto pen, as he has also promised, thereby ushering in a new era of partisan gridlock with a Democratic Congress that shares few of his ideas on war, spending and taxes?

Yes, it is a clear choice on Tuesday. The outcome of either choice, however, is not so clear.

It’s hard to believe that after two years of campaigning, we don’t really know what the outcome of voting for either of these two men will be. That’s often the case, but I don’t remember an election when the potential presidencies of both men seemed so obscured by lingering questions.

At best, we can make an educated guess about what to expect. We can assume the partisanship and blunders of McCain’s campaign are just symptoms of the election and that, in office, he will return to his maverick ways. Or we can assume the opposite. We can assume Obama’s is sincere with his endless pledges to listen to both sides and steer a post-partisan course. Or we can look at his record and conclude he’s just a standard liberal with pretty words.

But we won’t know anything until one of these men takes office. That’s why it’s important to remember a vote commits you to nothing more than that one election. No matter who wins, he will do so with the help of many skeptics ready to bolt the moment the new president proves inadequate. It’s easy to cheer for hope or for a hero. But when reality settles in, I imagine the excitement will quickly fade.

Politics An Uncertain Electorate