About a year ago, I was invited to a dinner party at Pop's Restaurant, where the conversation inevitably turned to politics. Fond of good wine and better conversation, the host initiated a roundtable discussion of the presidential election, which was still 12 months away and had not yet even made it to the primaries.
The questions were simple: Who will be the nominees, and who will win?
Regardless of age, sex or party affiliation, there was an overwhelming (and perhaps unanimous) consensus. Of course, if the election had obeyed our predictions, Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain (and their running mates) would not be barnstorming North Carolina because they wouldn't have accepted the nominations at their parties' conventions and partly because the Tar Heel State might not even be a key battleground state.
After all, all eight students at that dinner anticipated a matchup between Sen. Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.
McCain? Barely mentioned just months after his campaign was left for dead. Not yet identified as a maverick.
Obama? Appealing, but too inexperienced to top the Clinton machine. Not yet hailed as an inspirational tour de force.
(For the record, the brief discussion of vice presidential candidates prompted two references to Bill Richardson and Obama himself. Even the most politically-savvy Duke students hadn't heard of a certain hockey mom from Alaska last November.)
And while none of these musings qualify for breaking news in any sense, it does underscore one lesson we've all learned from this grueling race: Opinions change and perspectives shift every day. Because as long as five days seem now, imagine how long these last 12 months feel.