WASHINGTON - After all this time running to lead America, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are still trying to show they really believe in America.
Both men have made the election about not just the economy or even the American Dream, but about America itself. They see a nation pessimistic about itself and nervous about its future, hardly American traits.
They see political opportunity if they can come across as the one who gets what it means to be American, the guy who restores the glory.
What's more, for reasons quietly tied to religion or race or family roots, Romney and Obama can never do enough to shore up their own American bona fides in voters' minds.
This despite the fact that one of them will be the president next year, and one already is the president.
In the midst of their patriotic push, Obama and Romney have never overtly accused the other of being un-American, although some of Romney's supporters have. Both candidates spend no small amount of time raising doubts about the other's belief in America's promise, its workers, its resilience, its basic compact with its people.
Both talk about the goodness of Americans and the exceptional nature of America itself. They rarely concede that the other candidate shares that view.
Obama and Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, have vastly different visions on how to create jobs and opportunity, and that contrast in governing philosophy is a defining choice for voters in November.
They often make it sound personal, too.
"I think this election will decide the soul of America," Romney said while campaigning for the Republican nomination April. "And I have a very different view of the soul of America."
When Romney stood up at the GOP convention to accept the nomination, the theme of the night was on the giant screen behind him: "We Believe In America." The sentiment is on the side of his campaign plane, too.
The suggestion is that the other party, led by Obama, does not believe in America, and that it's chiefly Obama.
He flies on an airplane, Air Force One, with "United States of America" on its side.
The "believe" part is implied.
In Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, he framed the election as a choice of two visions. His was the one that would "restore the values" of America. …