[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/09/10/art.obama.plane.jpg]Editor's Note: Republican strategist Alex Castellanos was a former campaign consultant for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign and has worked on more than half a dozen presidential campaigns. Castellanos is a partner in National Media Inc., a political and public affairs consulting firm that specializes in advertising. He has produced many Republican political ads and has clients such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
In theater, they say the second act is the hardest to write. It requires relentless focus and discipline. The writer must give himself fearlessly to one central idea and never waver, though temptation is the opposite: There are many paths a story can take.
So it is in politics, as Barack Obama's campaign is learning.
The clear campaign of change ran into trouble in Act II when it was tasked with explaining what change actually meant. Obama, as they say in show business, "ran out of script."
The wind in his sails stalled in the hot calm of August and he has yet to recover. After John McCain's improbable resuscitation to seize the GOP nomination, the Arizona senator's top aides briefed him about his exacting challenge: He would go into the conventions trailing Obama by at least 8 percentage points and then battle back through the fall to parity.
Yet, as cooler days and hotter rhetoric mark the start of the fall finale, it is Obama who finds himself clawing back, forced to attack, launching uncharacteristic partisan and personal attacks against a McCain who has "lost track" of and is "confused" about how many houses he owns.
How did the soaring campaign of change become grinding politics-as-usual and crash so thunderously to earth?
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