Oscar races and presidential campaigns

How candidates compare with award contenders

The Oscar race, it's often said, is akin to a presidential campaign, a comparison one suspects has at least something to do with both being filled with dinners of indeterminate length and purpose. So as Americans go to the polls today, there might be a few things the candidates can suggest about this year's Oscar contenders. A shortlist:

-- Barack Obama/"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button": David Fincher's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story, sight unseen, is positioned to play the great savior despite still being untested. That makes it the perfect analogy to ... the great savior who is still untested. Like Obama, "Button" has plenty of star power (Cate Blanchett, Brad Pitt). And hey, wasn't the Illinois senator, like Button, also born under unusual circumstances?

-- John McCain/"Changeling" and "Gran Torino": Clint Eastwood and the Republican nominee could have come from the pen of the same screenwriter. One made his reputation as a war hero; the other firing (movie) guns. Both are elder statesmen you can't count out. McCain made a last hurrah this primary season when everyone thought his moment was up. Eastwood is now trying to do the same.

-- Sarah Palin/"Slumdog Millionaire": An out-of-left-field candidate rife with unknowns that suddenly has pundits buzzing? Perfect. Only unlike Palin, "Slumdog" will hold up a lot better under media scrutiny than she has (and unlike the vice presidential candidate, the main character in "Slumdog" answers TV questions correctly).

-- Joe Biden/"The Wrestler": Yes, Biden is better looking than Mickey Rourke. Heck, Joe the Plumber is better looking than Mickey Rourke. But the Biden-"Wrestler" comparison holds up: Both represent comebacks from the 1980s who earlier in their careers were forced to bow out in ignominy. Like Biden's short-lived presidential ambitions, some are writing off "Wrestler's" best-picture hopes. We wouldn't be so sure.

-- Hillary Clinton/"Frost/Nixon": Set in 1977, the film doesn't represent the flashiest idea or the newest face. But like the former first lady kept saying, it could be the most electable.

-- Ralph Nader/"The Visitor": Tom McCarthy's quiet drama about immigrants in New York isn't a movie that has a lot of big money behind it. But with contrarian appeal -- and a dose of eat-your-vegetables politics -- it might turn into a viable voter alternative, if a modestly performing one.

-- Mike Bloomberg/"The Dark Knight": A powerful outsider that has earned -- and spent -- more money than God. If that doesn't describe "Dark Knight," we don't know what does. But like New York's mayor, the big question facing 'Knight" is: just how fully will it be in the race?