It is one of the most memorable presidential elections in decades. It is a race that pits the iconoclast John McCain against the newcomer Barack Obama; the heroic former prisoner of war against the first African American major party nominee. In this two-hour, quadrennial broadcast of The Choice, FRONTLINE producer Michael Kirk examines the rich personal and political biographies of these men and goes behind the headlines to discover how they arrived at this moment and what their very different candidacies say about America.

iconoclast John McCain against the newcomer Barack Obama

The story begins at the Democratic Convention in 2004 when Barack Obama, a little-known candidate for the U.S. Senate from Illinois, stepped forward to tell his personal story and to call for a move beyond partisan politics.

“All around were people with tears in their eyes,” Obama’s chief political adviser David Axelrod tells FRONTLINE. “And I realized at that moment that his life would never be the same.”

Also that summer, the future Republican nominee John McCain, a self-described maverick and sometime adversary of the Bush administration, took the stage at his party’s convention to defend the president’s national security policy. In an effort to win the support of his party, the longtime senator from Arizona had decided to try to walk a fine line — a line he’d had trouble walking all his life — between being an unconventional outsider and a team player.

“The Choice 2008,” part of “PBS Vote 2008” election coverage, draws on in-depth interviews with the advisers, family and friends closest to these unlikely candidates, as well as with seasoned observers of American politics, who together tell the definitive story of these men and their ascent to their party’s nominations.

See previews and find out more at

Watch it Monday, November 3rd at 9:00 pm on KUAT6-HD