At a Friday morning rally in Hilliard, Ohio, Democratic former Gov. Ted Strickland exhorted the audience to vote for President Barack Obama because GOP hopeful Mitt Romney and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan have "to fake compassion."
If you think that sounds unusually cutting, go a few hundred miles across the country to a Romney rally where Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, told his home state crowd he wonders of the president, "How much do you really love the country you are in charge of?"
These aren't average campaign season contrasts. Coming from mainstream political leaders, they reflect a bitter mood in the political class that will make governing hard no matter who wins on Election Day.
Adding to the level of difficulty, the partisan balance of Congress is likely to remain essentially the same. Democrats are poised to retain control of the Senate but with a smaller margin. Republicans are expected to retain power in the House also with a narrower majority. Divided control with parties wielding even less power in each chamber means consensus will be even more illusory.
If Obama is victorious on Tuesday, he will govern a deeply divided nation, and he will not have a grace period to heal post-election wounds. That's because looming deadlines demand that the president barrel straight into a headlock with Congress over budget cuts and tax changes shorthanded by Washington as the "fiscal cliff." That fight has the potential to exacerbate already raw feelings.
Senior Democrats say the president's approach to fiscal cliff negotiations depends on how Republicans react to the election. Some believe an Obama victory will force a self-evaluation by the Republican Party.
"We have two parties for a reason, and theirs is a very riven party right now," senior Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod said. "There are elements of theirs that will evaluate results to be more ideological, and others will say that would be a mistake. They will have to resolve their own issues."
The following came from interviews with a dozen senior Democrats close to the White House or involved in discussions related to the president's agenda. Most spoke anonymously because they weren't comfortable discussing post-election matters without White House approval.
Obama will turn to negotiations over the fiscal cliff quickly after Tuesday, sources close to the president said.
In the lead-up to the new year, the nation's leaders will face three events in quick succession. First, the Bush-era tax cuts will expire on December 31, triggering a return to higher Clinton-era rates unless new policy is set. Second, $1.2 trillion of painful automatic budget cuts will be triggered --- the so-called "sequester" -- unless Congress finds an alternate path to bring that sum into the nation's coffers. Third, the country will hit a new debt ceiling in mid-spring. These events, especially the sequester, could have a devastating impact on the economy, pushing it over the fiscal cliff.
"That's a cliff no one wants to go over," Axelrod said.
Democrats and Republicans largely agree that the cleanest solution is to effectively address all three crises with a massive reform effort that would both cut government spending and bring in more revenue. It would include changes to the personal tax code, entitlements and debt reduction targets.
But, as usual, the devil's in the details.
Obama administration officials have told CNN the president will veto any package that extends the Bush-era tax cuts for those making $250,000 a year or more.
"I've already signed a trillion dollars' worth of spending cuts. I intend to do more, but if we're serious about the deficit, we also have to ask the wealthiest Americans to go back to the rates that they paid when Bill Clinton was in office," the president has said on the trail as recently as Friday.
In an e-mailed statement Obama campaign policy director James Kvaal got more specific, explaining that the president wants "a balanced plan that cuts the deficit by $4 trillion with $2.50 worth of spending cuts for every dollar in revenue and reduces spending on Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlements."
If a spirit of compromise grips the capital post-election, the best-case scenario is a framework deal: In November and December the parties agree to general targets for revenue increases and spending cuts plus new tax terms and then work out the details six or nine months down the road. In this rosy scenario, the nation avoids a New Year's tax hike and the ugly sequester.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, says he thinks it can be done.
"We have a chance in the lame duck to at least start the process, and I think there's a chance to rally bipartisan support," he said. "These are basic issues we can work out, and the president is in a position to do that."