- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2008

NEWS ANALYSIS:

The coming presidential matchup will center on three key themes - age, experience and Washington gridlock - as a 46-year-old, first-term senator preaching hope and promising change runs against a 71-year-old veteran of war and politics.

Already, battle strategies are emerging: Sen. John McCain is portraying Sen. Barack Obama as a political neophyte, inexperienced in world affairs and lacking any track record of bridging partisan divides.

Mr. Obama, of Illinois, is targeting the four-term senator from Arizona as a Washington insider incapable of changing the scorched-earth political pattern and offering only more of the status quo, which he brands “a third Bush term.”

All three themes will cut both ways over the next five months.

“Age and experience is an advantage to some, just as youthfulness and change is an advantage to others, and the same is true of bipartisanship,” said Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh. “That’s why this race is going to be so close.”

Republican strategist Scott Reed said that if Mr. McCain’s strategy is successful, voters will come to question Mr. Obama’s depth of experience and his ability to handle the rigors of the presidency.

“This campaign will demonstrate the huge learning curve for Obama on how the world works. Experience will be the impression left in voters’ minds by the end of the cycle,” Mr. Reed said.

The two candidates will clash on huge issues - the war in Iraq, foreign-policy acumen, tax cuts, the federal government’s role - and smaller fringe items, such as ties to lobbyists, a multitude of government aid programs and the environment.

cOn perhaps their biggest issue, the war, Mr. Obama will seek to keep Iraq front and center, charging that Mr. McCain’s continued support of military involvement shows that he will continue President Bush’s policies. Mr. McCain, on the other hand, will target Mr. Obama over his refusal to acknowledge that the “surge” of U.S. troops to Iraq has worked, calling the former law professor shortsighted and lacking an understanding of the terrorist threat that the nation faces.

cOn tax cuts, Mr. Obama will define Mr. McCain as favoring the rich, pointing out that the Arizonan himself said so from the Senate floor when he twice voted against Mr. Bush’s historic tax cuts; Mr. McCain will defend his position to extend those tax cuts as the only way to prevent Americans from being hit by new taxes.

Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor laid out the campaign’s line of attack on Tuesday, saying: “It’s clear that Senator McCain has embraced President Bush’s policies, from the war in Iraq to more tax cuts for the wealthy, so we fully expect him to embrace his tactics as well.”

cOn foreign policy, Mr. McCain will hit Mr. Obama for his pledge to meet unconditionally with leaders of rogue nations, such as Iran, North Korea, Syria, Cuba and Venezuela. The former Navy pilot will hammer Mr. Obama, who never served in the military, as seeking to appease enemies of the U.S. because of his inexperience.

Mr. McCain already has signaled that he will make inexperience a key line of attack. “Many believe all we need to do to end the nuclear programs of hostile governments is to have our president talk with leaders in Pyongyang and Tehran, as if we haven’t tried talking to these governments repeatedly over the past two decades,” Mr. McCain said last week in Denver.

Mr. Obama swiped back at Mr. McCain, illustrating how seriously he takes the issue.

“John McCain’s been going around the country talking about how much I want to meet with Raul Castro, as if I’m looking for a social gathering,” Mr. Obama said in Miami last week. “That’s not what I said. John McCain knows it.”

cOn spending, Mr. McCain will portray Mr. Obama as just another tax-and-spend Democrat as he tout his own long record opposing pork-barrel spending. Mr. Obama will highlight his plan for $100 million in targeted tax cuts to offset his expansive government program proposals and label Mr. McCain a foe of the working class.

On a side issue about government, Mr. Obama already has targeted the 25-year congressional member for his Washington insider ties, an issue that the senator from Arizona took so seriously that he pushed out any advisers with lobbying ties.

cOn bipartisanship, Mr. McCain, dubbed a maverick by fellow Republicans for breaking often with his party, will point to Mr. Obama’s record as the most liberal member of the Senate, voting nearly all the time with his party and opposing Republican initiatives. Mr. Obama will call Mr. McCain nothing more than a continuation of the partisan politics that plagued the Bush administration as he vows to pull his own foes into an Obama Cabinet.

“One of them has a track record, John McCain, and one of them has not done that,” top McCain adviser Charlie Black said. “He’s done nothing. Common sense tells you that if he’s got one of the most liberal records in the Senate, he’s not doing very much that’s bipartisan.”

The McCain campaign Tuesday put out a surrogate to make its case, enlisting Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, on the shortlist of McCain running mates. The governor said Mr. McCain’s “accomplishments and his courage are legendary” stand “in contrast to Senator Obama and his readiness for the job. He is somebody who continues to demonstrate a lack of experience and judgment on a variety of matters.”

Mr. Black used the exact same language, saying: “We believe that shows a lack of experience and a lack of character. And it shows some arrogance that he believes that by meeting with these dictators … that somehow his personal charm is going to get them to change their minds. History will tell you otherwise.”

Although the Obama campaign says it will not make Mr. McCain’s age a focal point of the general election, late-night comedians are already making fun of the man who would be the oldest to take the presidency. “Late Show” host David Letterman said: “John McCain looks like a guy whose head you can barely see over the steering wheel.”

Mr. McCain is working to defuse the issue. On “Saturday Night Live” last month, he joked that he has the “courage, the wisdom, the experience and, most importantly, the oldness necessary.”

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