Obama, McCain campaigns go global
The two presidential candidates plan trips abroad to build their foreign-policy credentials.
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Of course, given the level of security that will surround Obama, this will be no ordinary visit. But at least he is likely to have contact with generals and ordinary US soldiers, a photo op that can't help but boost his image as a potential commander in chief – assuming there are no gaffes. Obama has no military experience, and polls show him losing to McCain in handling of security matters. Obama has argued that judgment is more important than experience.Skip to next paragraph
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In his visit to Europe, where Obama enjoys sky-high approval ratings, there could be a downside to all the adulation. After all, his immediate need is to win over white, working-class American voters, not European elites. In a Newsweek column last week, BBC anchor Matt Frei warned against the perils of Obamamania, noting that the pleadings of foreigners don't necessarily translate to votes in the American heartland. In 2004, "Britain's Guardian newspaper didn't help when it called on its readers to write to every single voter in Clark County, Ohio, beseeching them to vote for [Democratic nominee John] Kerry," Mr. Frei writes.
McCain targets Hispanics
McCain's trip this week to Colombia and Mexico is likely to be a lower-key affair than Obama's foreign travels. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Arizona senator will be in Cartagena, Colombia, meeting with President Alvaro Uribe to discuss trade and narcotics. Democrats in Congress are holding up a free-trade pact with Colombia that has come to symbolize growing opposition among American workers to a range of free-trade pacts, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). On Thursday, McCain will meet with Mexican president Felipe Calderon to discuss bilateral cooperation in the fight against drug cartels. McCain is not expected to do or say anything that would depart from Bush administration policy, even as he tries to distance himself from an unpopular president.
Aside from highlighting his foreign-policy credentials outside the Middle East, McCain's Latin American foray is probably aimed at Hispanics in the US – a fast-growing and pivotal voter bloc. Last Saturday, at a convention of US Latino leaders, both candidates delivered speeches touting the benefits of immigration, even as McCain seeks to reassure the GOP base that he favors securing the US-Mexican border before pushing for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
McCain's most recent foreign trip was to Ottawa, on June 20, where he spoke to the Economic Club of Canada. According to an AP report, he told reporters that this was "not a political campaign trip." But then in his speech he indirectly criticized Obama (though not by name) over his suggestions that the NAFTA needs to be revised and renegotiated.
"Demanding unilateral changes and threatening to abrogate an agreement that has increased trade and prosperity is nothing more than retreating behind protectionist walls," he said.
Given the woes of American workers, McCain was certainly on safer ground making that comment in Canada than in Michigan or Pennsylvania. But among much of the Republican base, support for free trade is an article of faith. And as he continues to solidify his support within the GOP, trade is one area where McCain can be expected to stay firmly on the reservation.