- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2008

The two presidential candidates switched places Wednesday, with Republican Sen. John McCain talking about education in poor black communities and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama discussing national security and touting his credentials to be commander in chief.

The Republican candidate spent the morning in Cincinnati, addressing the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization.

He ingratiated himself with the membership by repeatedly lauding the group, and even offered praise for his opponent, seeking to become the first black president in U.S. history.

“Don’t tell him I said this, but he’s an impressive fellow in many ways,” Mr. McCain said to applause from the crowd. “His success should make Americans, all Americans, proud. Of course, I would prefer his success not to continue quite as long as he hopes,” he joked.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama spent the day at a panel discussion at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., talking about how he would handle emerging nuclear, biological and cyber threats if elected president.

The presumptive Democratic nominee said two goals of his administration would be to secure all loose nuclear material during his first term and rid the world of nuclear weapons. He vowed to maintain U.S. power as he dealt with rogue nations such as North Korea and Iran.

“As long as nuclear weapons exist, we’ll retain a strong deterrent. But we will make the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons a central element in our nuclear policy,” Mr. Obama said.

But as he has over the past two days, he dismissed the Iraq war as a diversion from the real dangers around the world and said the United States has got to stay focused on emerging threats.

“The danger … is that we are constantly fighting the last war, responding to the threats that have come to fruition, instead of staying one step ahead of the threats of the 21st century,” he said.

Joining him were two potential running mates, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana and former Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia. Mr. Bayh, a former governor of a Republican state, could help deliver Indiana if chosen. Mr. Nunn, a defense expert from the South, could help the first-term senator by offsetting the stature gap with Mr. McCain, a war hero and longtime member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Bayh, who supported Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primary campaign, called Mr. Obama “pragmatic,” adding that on Iraq, “he was wise enough to oppose that conflict from the beginning because he understood it was a strategic diversion.

“He’s now tough enough to get us out and to do it in the right way, refocus on Afghanistan and Iran and the other real threats that are evolving,” Mr. Bayh said.

Mr. Obama called for investing in methods to prevent, detect and contain biological attacks. He highlighted a proposal to spend $5 billion over three years to develop an international intelligence and law enforcement infrastructure to stymie terrorist networks.

“Making these changes will do more than help us tackle bioterror; it will also create new jobs, it will support a healthier population and improve America’s capability to respond to any major disaster,” he said.

In Cincinnati, Mr. McCain said his Democratic opponent is wrong to oppose school vouchers for students in failing public schools.

“All of that went over well with the teachers union, but where does it leave families and their children who are stuck in failing schools?” the Arizona senator asked. “No entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity.”

Mr. McCain left out his more strident attacks on Mr. Obama, who received a standing ovation when he addressed the NAACP on Monday. He said he and his opponent have “honest differences” about the size and shape of the federal government, noting that some in the audience may disagree with his small-government stance.

“It may be that many of you share his view. But even allowing for disagreement, surely there is common ground in the principle that government cannot go on forever spending recklessly and incurring debt,” he said.

When Mr. Obama spoke to the group, he said he would push the government to provide more education and economic assistance, but he also drew big cheers when he urged blacks to demand more of themselves.

Mr. McCain was clearly aware of his opponent’s popularity with the group.

“Whatever the outcome in November,” Mr. McCain told the crowd, “Sen. Obama has achieved a great thing, for himself and for his country, and I thank him for it.”

But he also made a case for himself as he vowed to listen to NAACP members.

“I am a candidate for president who seeks your vote and hopes to earn it. But whether or not I win your support, I need your goodwill and counsel. And should I succeed, I’ll need it all the more,” he said. “It would be among the great privileges of my life to work with you in that cause.”

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