WASHINGTON — Voters are torn between competing cravings: Change or experience in 2008? They are demanding something new, but there is comfort in the tried and true.
The public's low opinion of Washington and growing concern about the direction of the country point to 2008 being a "change" election, one like the campaigns of 1974 and 1992 when people looked for a marked departure from the status quo.
But the war in Iraq and the rise of global terrorism make for an anxious electorate and could turn this into a "war" election, one like the campaigns of 1944 and 2004 when voters found comfort in the most experienced candidates.
Change versus experience? The White House will likely go to the man or woman who speaks best to both.
"You can't separate them. I think (voters) want both," said John Edwards, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004 who is running for president in 2008.
"I think they're looking for change — serious change, substantive change — and I think they will have to feel like whoever the candidate (is) is prepared to be president of the United States," Edwards said in an interview.
"I will say I don't think they will judge that based on a resumé. I think that's a judgment they will make based on what they see and hear — the demeanor, personal strength (and) those kinds of things."
Edwards was quick to add that last part because he is more of a "change" candidate than one of experience.
Fellow Democrat Barack Obama also is more change than experience. Just three years removed from the Illinois Legislature, Obama rocketed to the top tier of the Democratic presidential race by presenting himself as an outsider who could transform government crippled by corruption, polarization and "a smallness of our politics."
"The time for that politics is over," Obama said when he announced his candidacy Feb. 10. "It's time to turn the page."
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., the former first lady and second-term senator, is long on experience and short on change. Polls show that most voters have made up their minds about her and they associate her with her husband's presidency — for better and worse.
On the Republican side, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is a "change" candidate who casts himself as a Washington outsider.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is an "experience" candidate who built his presidential platform around the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Terrorism, he says, is something "that I understand better than anyone who is running for president of the United States."
Republican Sen. John McCain was a self-styled reformer during his failed 2000 presidential campaign. His message this year is less about change than it is about courting conservatives — the GOP status quo. "I'm older than dirt and have more scars than Frankenstein," McCain likes to say. "But I've learned a few things along the way."