As the election year downshifts into the final turn before the straightaway, there is no disputing that America is on the edge of its seat for the most contested part of the race. According to polls, Republican and Democratic campaigns are neck-and-neck for what is shaping up to be a photo finish, but not the winner-take-all finish both sides are expecting.

It is certainly not the race political analysts expected less than a year ago, with most agreeing the Obama administration had a guaranteed second term. In an election year with the majority of Americans citing the economy as their biggest issue, President Obama was off to a strong start with job growth up at 227,000 added in March, which was a steady climb from the minus 800,000 of his first month in office, the Dow Jones Industrial Average at over 13,000 points, which was the highest it had been since the end of 2007, unemployment at 8.3 percent, which was down from the plus 10 percent he also inherited upon taking office, and the economy in general growing at more than two percent as opposed to the 8.9 percent left over from the previous administration. All of this is atop a grueling Republican primary season that left every candidate and the party itself with extensive public relations and reputational damage, including eventual nominee Mitt Romney.

Unfortunately for the Democratic White House, a summer of economic downturn has provided Republicans and Mitt Romney with the ammunition they needed to support their claim that the President has not done the job. With the summer months adding a significantly lower average of 80,000 jobs per month and unemployment still falling to its current 8.1 percent, the hard fact remains that no president has won re-election in modern history with an unemployment rate over 7.2 percent.

These numbers fall on the heels of the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention, where the night before President Obama asked the American people for more time and promised that though change would be slow, it is coming, and we’re on the right track. The morning after, the U.S. Bureau of Statistics and Labor released a job growth figure of plus 96,000 in August. Though it is increasing, it is not good enough, according to most economists in order to stimulate consumer confidence and spending, or prove that the economy overall is growing at a healthy rate.

Throughout theRepublican and Democratic National Conventions, speakers on both sides agreed that no one could repair the damaged economy in the wake of the 2008 housing and financial crisis in four years. Where they disagree is the way in which to go about it, and those arguments are not new.

General economic platforms between both parties remain largely the same over key issues like taxes and deficit with democrats vying for tax consistency and increase and closing tax loopholes to pay for current and additional government-provided initiatives to stimulate economic growth and redistribute existing wealth to the middle and lower class. Among these initiatives are various small business employment incentives, since small businesses make up the largest employment sector in the country.

Republicans are running largely on the basis of ‘trickle down economics,’ within which taxes are cut) to promote consumer spending from the top down and stimulate traditional free market economic growth and an increased revenue stream. This also includes cutting existing government programs to reduce deficit spending.

The politics of economics vary little within both parties from election cycle to cycle in the increasingly partisan world of American politics. The choice before the electorate in 2012 seems more to do with the character of the candidates themselves in the face of the challenges before the nation, which is another growing trend in the modern political machine.

Can someone like Mitt Romney, privileged from youth and extremely independently successful and wealthy, relate to an increasingly polarized and cavernously separated upper and lower class, with the middle slowly disappearing in between? Or will his politics follow his personal career of economic ‘creative destruction’ and plunge the economy further into recession by supporting the Wall Street tactics that ran it aground so severely in 2008?

Will President Obama continue the ‘Obamanomics’ trend of Federal Reserve stimulus and government assistance that, although having pulled the economy from the brink of almost assured destruction, still has yet to establish a trend of healthy and consistent upward growth? Can he persuade Americans that he can get us on the right track in another four years and that the long-promised change really is coming?

These are the questions we can only hope to surmise answers for as we enter the final, all-out drag to the finish of Decision 2012.