Farewell to John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani. Guess which one is planning to devote his life to helping the poor? No fair looking it up.

The presidential campaign is kind of lonely — we’d gotten used to having a big crowd. The parents of extremely large families must feel this way when their children start going off to college.

Mike Huckabee is still in the Republican race, possibly due to a belief in miracles or a lack of any other specific occupation. Ron Paul pops up for the Republican debates, and Mike Gravel is rumored to have been seen wandering down a Florida highway recently. But we’re really down to four, and tonight the Democrats have a debate involving only two people. Has anybody ever tried this before?

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been extremely testy toward one another, but so far the rancor at the top has not trickled down. The Democratic voters haven’t seemed angry at all. In fact, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen such a chipper group. Racing to the polls in droves. Not a single reference to holding one’s nose or the lesser of two evils. “I want the Republicans to feel the way I did in 2004,” said Mike Sherzan, an Iowan who was for Edwards in the caucus while his wife was for Clinton and his son was with Obama. (Basically, everybody’s son is with Obama.)

It would be nice if the two survivors could work a little harder on encouraging that mood. Anger is out. So 2006. So … Tom DeLay.

Hillary could start by purging her campaign of the lingering sense that the presidency is her due and anyone who stands in her way is a particularly mean chauvinist. You cannot run a campaign with the slogan: “Vote for Hillary — Think of All She’s Been Through.”

And while it seems unlikely, Barack might consider admitting once in a while that it’s possible for a person to reach for a greater tomorrow while voting for somebody else.

“It’s about the past versus the future,” he said yesterday, railing at some people (no names were mentioned, but we’re really running out of alternatives) who are willing to settle for small change, who “look backwards and try to build a bridge back to the 20th century.”

See, that is the sort of thing that makes Hillary voters depressed. Everybody wants to be a change agent. But Barack is making Clintonites feel like an elderly aunt who won’t let the kids play their newfangled music in the talent show.

In Colorado yesterday, Caroline Kennedy once again passed the torch to a new generation at an Obama rally that drew an estimated 18,000 people to the University of Denver arena, an overflow room and an overflow overflow room. “Let’s give a shout-out to all the folks who are still outside on the lacrosse field,” Barack urged the early birds who made it into the actual event.

The Kennedy-Obama connection is central to the campaign’s message, which is that the American people have been wandering in the desert for more than a generation, waiting for another leader who could show them how to reach for the stars. But J.F.K.’s grand achievement was the raising of expectations, not the follow-through. His administration was a decidedly mixed bag, during which people spent a great deal of time building nuclear fallout shelters.

Some of the Democratic resistance to Obama’s magic comes from people who are wary of politicians who want to win their hearts. Every great candidate has golden moments when the campaign merges perfectly into the zeitgeist of the people. But sooner or later it passes, and you’re left with a tired, flawed human being making a pitch to crowds of slightly deflated citizens. One of Hillary’s selling points is that we’re pre-deflated. We’ve known her so well for so long.

The Obama let-down would be way harder to handle. Earlier this week, his campaign visited Barack’s sort-of ancestral home in El Dorado, Kan., a small town outside Wichita where the community college gym was rocking.

“An hour-and-a-half wait. It was well worth it,” said Hardy Stegall of nearby Pretty Prairie.

It was Obama’s first visit. His grandparents, the Dunhams, kept chasing the American dream west until they wound up in Hawaii. Stanley Dunham started out in El Dorado, where he managed a furniture store and, family legend has it, once decked the high school principal. At the rally, Obama told the story of how Stanley married a young woman from the right side of the tracks and how their daughter married a man from Kenya, who left her a young single mother whose son is running for president.

“Their journey, like so many others, speaks to a simple truth … the future is what we decide it is going to be,” he said.

“I never thought he’d come here,” said Stegall, almost beside himself with pleasure.

And to tell the truth, I never imagined sitting in a gym in small-town Kansas, watching people whoop for a black, Hawaii-born, grandson-of-a-son of the Kansas soil who promised to bring their hometown values with him to the White House.

We may remember this as a great campaign, people. Presuming they don’t screw it up.

By GAIL COLLINS (New York Times)