Barack Obama switches off personality politics but Sarah Palin continues to electrify crowds

September 8, 2008

Source: Times Online
Barack Obama turned his gaze yesterday towards the economic storm gathering around ordinary Americans as he began trying to navigate an election landscape transformed over the past ten days by Sarah Palin.

The Democratic nominee, whose presidential bid has often been dominated by his compelling life story, said that he had developed a distaste for personality politics. “You know, this whole résumé contest is not what the American people are looking for,” he said. “I have to make it clear what is at stake in this election.”

He is struggling to regain voters’ attention or work out how to tackle John McCain’s populist running-mate. Polls suggest that Mr Obama’s bounce from the Democratic convention has largely disappeared, with the RealClearPolitics average showing his lead cut to 1.8 per cent – well within the statistical margin of error.

John McCain yesterday claimed “the electricity has been incredible” at rallies ever since he invited Alaska’s Governor to join his ticket, and denied that Mrs Palin was merely galvanising his party’s previously torpid base.

He told CBS: “She has excited people all over the country. I would love to say it was all because of the charisma of John McCain, but it is not. I’m sure Governor Palin has failings, we all do. But she is what Americans have been looking for.”

Campaigning in Indiana at the weekend, Mr Obama scorned his opponent’s efforts to seize the mantle of change. He pointed out that Mr McCain’s campaign was stuffed full of former corporate lobbyists and that Mrs Palin herself had employed them to introduce federal funding – called “earmarks” – into legislation. To suddenly portray herself as the “champion antiearmark person” was risible, he said. “That’s not change. Come on! I mean, words mean something, you can’t just make stuff up.”

Yesterday, in an interview on ABC, he concentrated on America’s ailing economy, saying that unemployment figures, as well as the crisis surrounding mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, had demonstrated the fragility of the US economy. The Republican convention in St Paul last week had, he added, nothing to say about key issues such as health care, making college more affordable or keeping people in their homes.

He mocked Mr McCain’s effort to distance himself from an unpopular White House Administration, claiming that his choice of Mrs Palin had demonstrated the Republicans were still driven by right-wingers who would “have had a riot” if a centrist running-mate like Senator Joe Lieberman had been chosen instead.

Mr Obama still had to deal with issues about his own views and exotic background, disclosing that he had once considered joining the US military and then acknowledging that, when asked last month at an evangelical forum if life began at conception, he had been too flippant in replying it was “above my pay grade”. He said yesterday: “What I intended to say is . . . I don’t presume to be able to answer these kinds of theological questions.”

He also repeated a previous charge that Republicans were seeking to smear him over his religion, alleging that they had been “very good at throwing rocks and hiding their hand” when discussing “my Muslim faith” – before swiftly correcting himself to say “my Christian faith”.

Mr McCain similarly sought to focus on so-called pocketbook issues when he appeared on CBS. Despite previously stating that the economy was “basically sound”, he said that the news on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac showed why “Americans are hurting in a way that they have not hurt for a long time”.

His party spent much of the weekend relishing a row over the refusal of Oprah Winfrey, a strong supporter of Mr Obama, to have Mrs Palin on her daytime TV show. But the controversy was tempered by her notable absence from the Sunday talk shows – and, indeed, her failure to do any interviews at all in the past ten days.

McCain v. Obama – Let Us Know Who You Want To Win

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