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McCain and Obama: a stark matchup

They're both mavericks, but they differ sharply on issues and how to govern.

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Party strategists warn against making too much of the intraparty squabbling.

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"I think both candidates will get 80 percent of their party's voters at the end of the day," says Bill Carrick, a Democratic strategist based in Los Angeles.

"After eight years of George Bush, I just don't think Democrats will be voting for Republicans," says Mr. Carrick. "And when things calm down, they'll recognize that it's in the Democrats' best interest to elect Senator Obama. And Republicans will have the same feeling about McCain."

This leaves the moderates and the independents as the battleground. McCain is already trying mightily to distance himself from Bush, appearing in public with him as little as possible and pointedly criticizing his administration for its blunders, such as the handling of hurricane Katrina and what McCain saw was mishandling of the early years of the Iraq war.

McCain is also seizing opportunities to highlight his policy differences with Bush, such as his support for limits on greenhouse-gas emissions that the Bush administration resisted.

But every time the debate comes back to Iraq, McCain risks looking in lock step with Bush. McCain was a big proponent of last year's "surge" in US troop presence in Iraq, and so his complaints of the handling of the war have diminished.

Going forward, the mantra that Obama introduced first – change – will now be the theme of both campaigns. From the McCain camp, the question will be whose change do voters want, the change that a "maverick," experienced leader can bring, or the change that a young man who just four years ago was a state senator in Illinois can bring.

From the Obama camp, the emphasis will be on judgment over years of Washington experience.

During the primaries, Senator Clinton failed to gain serious traction over her highly debated advertisement asking voters whom they would want answering the phone at 3 a.m. In fact, analysts say, it may have only served to point to McCain as the most experienced candidate on national-security matters.

But even there, as polls show Americans more concerned about the economy than about Iraq or terrorism, McCain starts his general election run with a big anchor around his legs.

"He's in a tough situation, McCain, given that the major issues are going to be economic and that these issues do favor a Democratic candidate," says Stephen Wayne, a political scientist at Georgetown University.

"McCain can campaign if he wants on national-security grounds, but unless there's a change in the international environment and a perceived threat to the US, I don't know where that's going to get him."

McCain's admitted weakness on economic matters could be helped by selecting a running mate with a strong reputation on economics and finance, such as former Rep. Rob Portman (R) of Ohio, also Mr. Bush's former budget director, or Mitt Romney, ex-governor Massachusetts and a wealthy businessman.