Obama – McCain trade verbal punches over swing votes

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Barack Obama and John McCain on Monday kick off the first formal week of the general election race, signalling their plan over the next 58 days to fight an unexpectedly conventional battle for swing voters in a handful of states in which attacks on personality will play a big role.

By Edward Luce in Washington

Mr McCain, whose selection last month of Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, as his running mate enthused his Republican party’s conservative base, on Sunday made it clear he intends to campaign as a bipartisan “maverick” who will change Washington.

The Republican nominee, whose convention in St Paul last week followed hard on the heels of Mr Obama’s Denver convention, touted his and Ms Palin’s record of disagreeing with their own party – and contrasted it with Mr Obama’s supposedly weak record of crossing Democratic party lines.

Mr McCain skated over criticisms that his 26-year record in Washington and his strong pro-Bush administration voting record stripped legitimacy from his promise to change the nation’s capital. “I do know he [Senator Obama] has never taken on his party on any major issue,” Mr McCain said in his 65th – and record – appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation.

The Arizona senator cited his history of pushing for campaign finance reform, his criticisms of the handling of the early years of the Iraq occupation and his stance on global warming as instance of where he went against the Republican line.

He also promised to appoint more than “one, token” Democrat or independent to senior positions in his administration. “Yes of course [I will appoint Democrats]. It is going to be the best and brightest in America. Some of them I will ask to take a dollar a year [in salary] – they’ve made enough money in their lives.”

On the campaign trail in Indiana, Mr Obama poured cold water on Mr McCain’s principal campaign theme. But the Democratic candidate was careful to avoid any personal criticisms of Ms Palin, whose inclusion on the Republican ticket has proved popular with the public at large.

“Suddenly he’s the ‘change agent’,” said Mr Obama of his rival. “He says I’m going to tell those lobbyists that their days of running Washington are over . . . Is he going to tell his campaign chairman, who’s one of the biggest corporate lobbyists in Washington? Is he going to tell his campaign manager, who was one of the biggest corporate lobbyists in Washington? I mean come on. They must think you’re stupid.”

Sunday’s exchange prefigured a campaign that is likely to pivot around which candidate is best able to persuade the swing voter he will overhaul politics-as-usual in Washington – a familiar debate that may boil down to emotional judgments about character as much as ideology.

Last week speakers at the Republican convention repeatedly attacked Mr Obama’s three-year stint as a community organiser on Chicago’s south side.

Mr Obama on Sunday said “it was curious they would mock this” since “service” and “country first” were the principal logos of the Republican convention. “You know a resumé contest is not what the American people are looking for,” he told ABC yesterday. “And for John McCain to say that he is going to reduce the rancour in Washington DC – well he obviously didn’t listen to the first two days of his convention.”

Both candidates also signalled that the economy would play the most prominent role among campaign issues, implying that the race would boil down to a small number of swing states, likely to be Ohio, New Hampshire Virginia, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico.

Mr Obama is also likely to target Florida, Indiana and North Carolina, while for Mr McCain a more ambitious map includes Pennsylvania and Michigan.

“This is a much smaller and more conventional battleground map than people were predicting a few months ago,” said Bill Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

The Financial Times

Obama running for the White House  The senator of Illinois is currently running for the White House but first of all he has to win the Primaries
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