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For now, the rule is simple: Hug your running mate, kiss your wife.

When Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, came out on stage to congratulate his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, after her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. Minn., last week, he gave her a hug, not a handshake. Palin got another hug at a rally outside Kansas City, Mo., on Monday.

The same McCain-Palin embrace — businesslike, to the point — was on display at a rally over the past weekend in Colorado Springs, Colo., but this time McCain’s wife, Cindy, was on stage. Moving quickly after his clasp of his running mate, McCain took a short side-step and planted a peck on his wife’s cheek.

It has been nearly a quarter century since Walter F. Mondale almost never touched Geraldine A. Ferraro in public when they shared the Democratic presidential ticket in 1984, and it is safe to say that times have changed. Back then, Mondale had a strict “hands off” policy and did not even put his palm on Ferraro’s back when the two stood side-by-side and waved with uplifted arms.

Anything more, and “people were afraid that it would look like, ‘Oh my God, they’re dating,’” Ferraro recalled in a brief telephone interview on Monday, of what now seems like a political Victorian age.

But the second coed major-party presidential ticket in American history has nonetheless raised 21st-century questions about etiquette, body language and who hugs first. (McCain was right to initiate the hugging as Palin’s hierarchical superior, an etiquette expert said.)

Mark Salter, McCain’s closest adviser, insisted there had been no behind-the-scenes stage direction — “Nobody said, Cindy first” — and that no one in the campaign had discussed hugging etiquette or protocol between McCain and Palin. “They’re going to behave like normal human beings,” he said. “Nobody ever told him, ‘Just shake hands.’”

Already, there has been one noticeable shift in protocol: McCain now introduces his wife first, not Palin, when both are on stage. But it was not always that way: At his first post-convention rally with Palin, in Cedarburg, Wis., last Friday, McCain began by lavishly praising Palin, who had just rocked the Republican convention. “Isn’t this the most marvelous running mate in the history of this nation?” McCain asked the roaring crowd, as Cindy McCain stood quietly by.