All week, Republicans have hailed Sen. John McCain as a maverick and a reformer, an independent thinker who will shake up Washington with the aid of vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
It's a sharp contrast with the way Democrats last week depicted the Arizona senator as a virtual clone of George W. Bush, promising to continue what speakers called the "failed policies" of the last eight years.
To be sure, a President McCain probably would fall somewhere between those positive and negative portrayals, just as Barack Obama would be neither totally the inexperienced Chicago pol nor someone ensuring dramatic change.
But it often has seemed this year that McCain's maverick side is more stylistic than substantive and that his decision to pursue conservative stances on key issues would undercut his stated desire to work across party lines.
Clearly, the dire fiscal situation Bush will leave his successor will constrain him from pushing his proposals. McCain almost certainly would face a more challenging political environment because Democrats will control the next Congress, likely with increased majorities.
Perhaps the most obvious example of the contrast between his stylistic flexibility and substantive rigidity occurred when he was a major figure in the "gang of 14" that sought to prevent a parliamentary meltdown in the Senate's consideration of Supreme Court nominees.
McCain helped to head off Republican conservatives pushing precedent-altering rules changes. But he ultimately joined them in voting for two conservative Bush nominees and, more significantly, made clear that he would name justices with similar ideological views, hardly an independent stance.
Similarly, while his touted early advocacy of the military surge in Iraq deviated some from orthodoxy at the time, it really was a continuation of his reliance on military force.
When Obama and some others already were skeptical about the efficacy of unleashing military force on Iraq, McCain was as enthusiastic as the Bush high command in advocating it and predicting success.
Now, while touting the surge's success, he still seems wedded to the idea that continued force is needed to ensure political progress.
In several areas, McCain has abandoned the approach that nurtured his maverick image. A prime example is fiscal policy.
In the early Bush years, he drew conservative ire by opposing as excessive the president's tax cut proposals for the wealthiest Americans.
Now, he backs extending all of the Bush cuts and increasing the emphasis on cutting spending, even though recent presidents have learned that it's unrealistic to achieve big spending reductions in a budget where most funds go for retirement programs, fixed income security and health payments and national defense.
One of his main goals is to eliminate the "earmarks" that lawmakers use to direct federal funds to specific home-state projects, many questionable. But independent groups estimate that ending all earmarks would save only $18 billion in a budget of more than $3 trillion.
Other areas in which McCain earned his reputation for independence are campaign finance reform, a complex area where legislating limits often produced unexpected side effects; global warming; immigration; and the power within the GOP of religious conservatives.
But he no longer criticizes leading religious conservative figures. He has enthusiastically embraced their goal of Supreme Court nominees who would bar legal abortions and picked a running mate who champions their causes.
On both global warming and immigration, he has abandoned more flexible stances in the face of conservative opposition.
As president, McCain has indicated he would like to reach across party lines and govern in a more bipartisan way than Bush. He would have to if he hoped to get anything done with a Democratic Congress.
But unless he modifies some current positions and reverts to the positions that gained him his reputation for independence, a McCain presidency might resemble a third Bush term and continue the political gridlock most Americans want to end.