If none of us ever read a book that was "dangerous," had a friend who was "different," or joined an organization that advocated "change," we would all be just the kind of people Joe McCarthy wants.- Edward Murrow, to his staff before his "See It Now" broadcast on Joe McCarthy, 9 March 1954
You wonder what kind of campaign will we have. The candidates have somewhat refrained from direct character attacks, but this seems replaced by widespread collateral damage, as the candidates are being called on to repudiate staff, friends, former colleagues, former acquaintances, people they may or may not have met crossing the street (ok, I'm getting a little facetious, but not by much). And even if the candidates can restrain themselves from attacks (John McCain for one does not seem to have forgotten the Bush campaign of 2000, where an underground campaign painted John McCain as a "Manchurian Candidate" (as a reference to his time as a POW) and his daughter as a half-black illegitimate child (his daughter is a Bengledeshi adoptee). All indications are McCain has no intention of having a George Bush style presidential campaign.
But it may not matter. Because for both parties, it is not just the candidates, but the party organizations that are around them. The Clinton campaign has alluded to this expectation, fed by the dependence of the McCain campaign on the GOP due to financial issues, and the attempts of the McCain campaign to get the backing of the conservative wing of the Republican party (which would presumably include them acting in support of McCain, in ways McCain would approve or not.)
A marine colleague of mine made the comment, after the way that John McCain and John Kerry's combat zone service was portrayed in the 2000 and 2004 elections by the George Bush campaigns, he did not know how valuable his own combat zone service was worth anymore. And the same people who brought that, are on the sidelines waiting for the general election to begin. If McCain cannot or does not restrain them, then both of the Democratic candidates for President will agree on this, that the sniping and character attacks that are seen know (and described by some as distractions), will be nothing compared to what the RNC will come up with.