Obama begins historic fight for White House against McCain

June 4th, 2008 - 3:12 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, June 4 (DPA) Barack Obama is one giant step closer to becoming the first African American president of the United States, but his next opponent, Republican John McCain, is a popular hero of the Vietnam War who could surprise in November. It was Obama’s night Tuesday. The Illinois senator celebrated clinching the Democratic Party’s nomination before an ecstatic crowd in St Paul, Minnesota, after a gruelling and bruising five-month battle with Hillary Clinton.

As he pivoted into the general election campaign, the 46-year-old Obama sounded many of the notes that have carried his unlikely presidential bid over the last year, promising to unite the country and bring change to the political culture in Washington.

“Tonight we mark the end of one historic journey with the beginning of another. A journey that will being a new and better day to America,” he said.

Obama also reached out to his rival Clinton, heaping praise on the former first lady as a “barrier-breaking” candidate who would be a critical asset in making the Democratic Party’s core policies a reality.

But it is unclear whether Obama will now be able to focus all of his efforts on McCain. Clinton did not concede the election Tuesday despite Obama passing the mark of 2,118 delegates that was needed to capture the party’s nomination.

With McCain having already clinched the Republican Party’s nod some three months ago, Obama has precious little time to lose. The Arizona senator has used his headstart to solicit campaign donations, rally his party around him and map out a strategy for the general election.

McCain, who brings strong foreign policy credentials and a long legislative career to his bid for the White House, has also spent the time fine-tuning his attacks on Obama, taking him to task for inexperience and naivety in the face of foreign threats.

“This is indeed a change election … but the choice is between the right change and the wrong change,” McCain said at his own rally Tuesday night in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Both Obama and McCain’s speeches Tuesday night provided the broad outlines of the campaign ahead, pre-empting the likely talking points of the other side and highlighting their key differences in policy and personality.

McCain, 71, if elected, would be the oldest president ever to start a first term and has sought to characterize himself as a tough-minded independent with the gravitas necessary to tackle the many security threats facing the country.

Obama, the son a Kenyan father and white mother from Kansas, would be one of the youngest US leaders. First elected to the US Senate in 2004, he touts his superior judgement and an offer of “new energy and new ideas to the challenges we face.”

McCain rejected Obama’s already well-rehearsed critique that a vote for McCain marks a vote for a third term of the unpopular President George W Bush. He pointed to issues like climate change, the treatment of terror detainees and limited government spending, on which he and the current president disagree.

“The American people didn’t get to know me yesterday, as they are just getting to know Senator Obama. They know I have a long record of bipartisan problem solving,” McCain said.

Obama pushed back by emphasizing the importance of good judgement, refocusing US foreign policy away from the war in Iraq to other threats, and tackling a sharply slowing economy back home.

“John McCain has spent a lot of time talking about trips to Iraq in the last few weeks, but maybe if he spent some time taking trips to the cities and towns that have been hit hardest by this economy … he’d understand the kind of change that people are looking for,” Obama said.

Whether the sagging US economy or national security is the top issue come November will be a key factor in who takes the White House.

But how the two candidates handle diplomacy has also emerged as a major distinction in the early going. McCain has ridiculed Obama as naive for expressing a desire to meet with the leaders of Iran and other US foes.

“Americans ought to be concerned about the judgment of a presidential candidate who says he’s ready to talk, in person and without conditions, with tyrants from Havana to Pyongyang,” McCain said.

Obama fired back that the US needs “tough, direct diplomacy, where the president of the United States isn’t afraid to let any petty dictator know where America stands and what it stands for.”

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