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• Foreign crises could develop that will highlight Mr. McCain’s national security credentials;

• And the Bush administration avoided another Katrina catastrophe by responding quickly to the latest hurricanes.

He even got in a political dig, as Mrs. Smith talked about the revival of the steel industry in a city in her parliamentary district.

“We are now the world’s biggest producer of ice-hockey skate blades,” she said.

“Hockey moms,” Mr. Pritchard injected.

That led to a discussion on lipstick. Mrs. Palin, in a now-famous joke, said the difference between a hockey mom like herself and a pit bull is lipstick. Mr. Obama Tuesday referred to Mr. McCain’s platform as warmed-over policies of President Bush.

“You can put lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig,” the Illinois Democrat said at a campaign rally.

The McCain campaign Wednesday accused his opponent of defaming Mrs. Palin.

Mr. Pritchard, referring to the spat, admitted, “I’m not an expert on lipstick. But I think most Americans are not concerned about whether they wear lipstick or what shade. They want to know what their policies are.”

Mrs. Smith challenged him on whether Mrs. Palin will win the female vote.

“Not all feminists support Sarah Palin,” she said.

Labor member Mary Creagh added that Mrs. Palin is the new celebrity in the race.

“An unknown mom has been thrust on to the scene. She’s taken over from Britney Spears,” she said, referring to a McCain campaign ad that compared Mr. Obama to the pop singer. “But no one knows how long this wave will last.”

Mrs. Creagh, Mrs. Smith and their Labor colleague Phil Wilson recognized the political threat to the Democratic ticket but predicted Mr. Obama will regain his footing and win the presidency.

Mrs. Creagh called Mr. Obama an “American hero” raised by a single mother who “pulled himself up by his bootstraps.”

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