Anne Kornblut has an interesting article in today's NYTimes that's worth a read. She covers the unlikely friendship that's sprung up between Senators McCain and Clinton as they've worked together on the Senate Armed Forces Committee and other matters ... and the ways in which that friendship may impact the prospective 2008 campaign season. Kornblut comments "the interplay between the two senators, both well known and both with compelling personal narratives and a knack for infuriating their own parties’ bases, could determine the tone of the 2008 presidential race and make it less personally vicious than the last two campaigns."
The article goes on to note that the two senators share a basic approach to politics, as both "strive to be seen as willing to break with ideological orthodoxy from time to time and to work across the aisle." Marshall Wittman (aka the Bull Moose) is quoted as well, saying "They would run a completely different campaign than we’ve seen in recent memory. Both of them realize there is a desire in the country for a different politics of national unity that transcends the current polarization."
Presuming that McCain and Clinton are in fact the major party nominees for 2008 (and that is a huge presumption at this point in the game), I think it's true that the candidates themselves would strive for a higher tone and a less-polarized dynamic. However, the parties, the surrogates, the interest groups will almost certainly continue to engage in the same kind of attack politics and smear games we've seen over the last several election cycles. It would take a heruclean effort by the candidates to quell those tactics; an effort, I fear, that would require their constant attention and prevent them from ever actually campaigning for anything.
There are a whole lot of "we'll see" moments between now and a McCain-Clinton race in 2008. But I think Kornblut and Wittman are right - such a race might have the best chance of looking different from any we've seen in a long time.