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Viewpoints: Obama versus McCain

The big battle for the White House is about to start. Who has the wind behind him, Barack Obama or John McCain? What hurdles do they face and what strategies can they employ to overcome them? Five leading US pundits give their views.

Click on the links below to read what they have to say.

Larry J Sabato, University of Virginia

Tom Mann, Brookings Institution.

Karlyn Bowman, American Enterprise Institute

Tony Fabrizio, Republican pollster

Walter Shapiro, Salon.com


Larry J Sabato is professor of politics at the University of Virginia.

The election is Barack Obama's to lose. The Democrats will be favoured: there is an unpopular war, an unpopular president and the economy has tanked. But Obama has demonstrated serious weaknesses and he has a lot of ground to make up.

Barack Obama
The issue of race is the great unknown for Barack Obama
The great unknown for Obama is race - we simply don't know how it will play.

Obama will gain from minorities but will lose some of the white working class, particularly in the Rust Belt and the Appalachian region. Some will come back - the vast majority of those who voted for Hillary Clinton will come back, no matter how angry they are at the moment.

John McCain's strength in terms of the Republican Party is that he does have the image of the maverick and moderate, at a time when the public is deeply anti-Bush.

Another of his advantages, is that as we move into the fall, people will focus on defence, military policy and foreign policy.

The downside is his age. Last week, I really thought he was showing his age.

It will be a tough, uphill climb for him but it is doable.

Tom Mann is an elections expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington

The political environment for John McCain is overwhelmingly hostile.

John McCain
Barack Obama's ideological position will be tested by John McCain
McCain could start to try to discredit Barack Obama. He could play on a set of concerns that exist or could be planted in the course of the campaign.

Certainly, there is his relative inexperience in politics and public life. There will also be problems revolving around his race and ideology.

His cultural as well as ideological position will be tested by McCain, and there will be an effort to try to associate [his campaign] with the tumultuous 1960s: student radicalism, ideological extremism, lack of patriotism. But, it will be hard for McCain to sustain this.

Everything is pointing towards a negative referendum [on the Bush years]. Obama's challenge is to get himself known to more people; to tell his story, to share his values and to make people comfortable with him, so that in the last two months he can focus on more substantive things like Bush's failures.

Karlyn Bowman is a public opinion researcher at the American Enterprise Institute.

The Democrats have extraordinary enthusiasm on their side.

There is a sour US mood, mostly directed at President Bush. John McCain has had to walk a fine line in terms of distancing himself from Bush, and has, so far, done well.

Obama's challenge will be to sustain the mood of enthusiasm over the summer
Many polls have shown the race is dead even - but there are a lot of variables. Pew Polls, for example, have shown John McCain ahead on handling Iraq. The issue of national security will be seen as his strength.

However, there is less attention focused on Iraq at the moment. It's on the back burner and there is a steady simmer but the economy is the strongest issue.

Many Americans feel that the country has gone off on the wrong track, with inflation etc.

There are certainly concerns over Barack Obama's inexperience.

His challenge will be to sustain the mood of enthusiasm over the summer, which will be difficult as people begin to think about their holidays.

He's been drawing wonderful crowds, and there has been an extraordinary turnout of young people - but whether they turn out to vote in November remains to be seen.

It's a very exciting race.

Tony Fabrizio is a Republican strategist who is not working on the campaign.

John McCain has defied gravity in the last few months in terms of the numbers: he is running 10-13 points ahead of the generic Republican brand and is continuing to fly there. But he will need to keep the independents on board. If he doesn't, he has little chance of winning.

What are the Republicans waiting for? It's already June and they need to be defining the race
The environment is favourable to Democratic Party but Barack Obama is an unknown commodity.

Is it possible that Obama might collapse under the weight of his own liberal record? Yes.

Is it possible that McCain could get defined as the third term of George W Bush? Yes.

One strategy for McCain is to make the race about Obama - to make it not about micro-policy but about ideological differences. Given Obama's record, this will be easy.

But what are the Republicans waiting for? It's already June and they need to be defining the race.

Obama portrays himself as mainstream, however he is anything but. If Obama isn't on the front pages of the newspapers soon defending himself, the Republican [campaign] isn't doing its job.

Walter Shapiro is the Washington bureau chief of Salon.com.

One of the main issues is whether John McCain can present himself as the reformer, as the person that voters in New Hampshire and Michigan - which he will have to win in November - fell in love with in 2000.

McCain will need to revive his appeal to hang on to independents.

He may be able to prove that he is formidable without demonising Obama.

He could, for example, really try to stress that he is someone with reform credentials to change Washington that are as good, if not better than Obama's.

It is quite possible that Obama, on the other hand, will have to focus on the negatives: that McCain is an old man who is out of touch, one who sold his soul to the devil on taxes to win the approval of President Bush.

The election is five months away, and we have no idea what the voters will be thinking about in October - whether it will terrorism, economy, or something we haven't even thought about. After all, six months ago we wouldn't have thought that people now would be talking about the price of gas.

We try so hard to get ahead of the story that we end up making certain predictions about many things that reasonable people agree are unknowable.

Interviews by Kathryn Westcott

Your comments:

Neither candidate represents my views: pro-peace; pro-life; end to capital punishment; basic health care for all; higher minimum wage; more progressive tax rates. Instead they will be discussing gas prices and preachers.
Mary Burke, Arlington, VA, USA

As a young voter (second presidential election), it really does disgust me how little a political campaign actually has to do with the real merits of a candidate and how much it has to do with "politics." By this, I mean the scheming, maneuvering, attacking and plotting that goes on so much on Capitol Hill and around the country. If our country voted based only on what a candidate stood for, instead of voting against someone else because the other candidate had been discredited, slandered, or otherwise politically attacked, we would have a very different (and most likely better) political system.
Ben Lord, Cincinnati Ohio,USA

Go Obama! But he needs to do a few important things: 1) pick John Edwards as Vice-President; 2) take a crash course in economics, for which he will be a quicker and better learner than McCain was, and tell Americans that the present mess is international but that there are things they, collectively and individually, can do; 3) probably pick Paul Krugman for Treasury Secretary; 4) persuade Hillary Clinton that accepting Health, Education and Welfare is not infra dig., but that she would be terrific at it, and get her health plan adopted; 5) learn to loosen up, smile, grin, take off his suit and tie (gulp) in public, and schmooze.
coningsby, Cordes, France

As a young, first time voter in the presidential elections, it sickens me to see political analysts' opinions of the possible campaign strategies that Obama and McCain might choose. For them (and Americans in general, I suppose), the whole race is about isolated and trivial issues and negative campaigning. Sabato points out race and age. Bowman thinks McCain can win on national security alone.

Worst of all, Fabrizo says "If Obama isn't on the front pages of the newspapers soon defending himself, the Republican [campaign] isn't doing its job." I say that if a political candidate is too much of a scumbag loser to tell the people about his own plans instead of pointing fingers and calling names, then he deserves nothing less than a slow death. And the same goes for those that support their actions, even indirectly. I didn't choose to be an American, but I'd like to choose the person that defines "American." How can I expect to make the right choice like this?
Austin,! Chapel Hill, USA

The last time a president was elected with little or no experience was Abraham Lincoln, and we all know how well that turned out. I have great hope for Mr. Obama. The fact that Barrack wants to talk to various rouge nations I feel is a great step forward in trying to make the world a safer place.
Mike Rizzuto, Chicago, IL, USA

Well balanced but lite article. The next couple of months will bring out all the skeletons in the closet. McCain has been through this before so his closet is pretty empty, Obama on the other hand already has had several scary ones(ministers, voting record in Ill, Nuke Pakistan, etc...) Hillary is cunning and there's a reason she did not quit the race completely. I'm betting she'll jump back in if republicans uncover what she found and she will use it to leverage a handsome bounty at the convention or step in to replace Obama if he can't recover from the skeletons. Welcome to Presidential politics American style! P.S. I don't care for either Obama or McCain because they will only take US down the same path it's been on. US needs to focus on economy, dollar, gas and home issues, let the world solve its own issues and wars.
steve, nyc, usa

Obama is the next president off U:S:A.
muttiah, milano (italy)

I can't see why anyone would vote for Obama. George Bush and the Republican party have done a great job over the past 8 years. Even John McCain, who is known for being a straight talker, says so!

"Americans overall are better off because we have had a pretty good prosperous time, with low unemployment and low inflation, and a lot of good things have happened," McCain said in a Jan. 30 debate of Republican candidates at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. More of the SAME! Vote John McCain 2008!
Mark Kauffman, Chico, CA, USA

McCain and the RNC had better start highlighting the differences between this two men and not stop until the election. Not negative ads just effectively pointing out the contrast between McCain and Obama. If they do that McCain will piok up have the Clinton folks and most of the Independants and will when by 7-9% in November....You heard it first right here......
Thomas Hedick, Brooksville USA

I disagree with Mr Shapiro. Obama should respect the fact that McCain is "old". In politics, being older is often an asset. But Obama need not worry too much about McCain. I don't think McCain has got that much teeth to worry about. He is definitely neither a Nixon nor a Reagan. I would be more concerned about the Republican machine. It's a nasty machine, and that's where I would train my best gun. To help him in that part of the race, he will need a good running-mate. I am keeping my fingers crossed they will choose SAM NUNN. From what I have read, this is the guy. I am sure, this is the guy. I like this guy. A perfect double.
Raymond Sammut, Canberra, Australia.

With Clinton on-board, Obama could be President. Without Clinton on-board, Mc Cain will be President.
Jim Barin, Middlesbrough, UK

The Democratic Party's nomination has been such rocky ride for Obama and hats off to him to have handled in such a great manner and earned much of the respect of people who voted for Clinton and also the senator clinton herself has bowed to his aura and crowd pulling capabilities. I believe Barack Obama is here to stay and bring the change that he has promised.
Abrar Hussain, Gulbarga, India

By letting Barack Obama set the frame of the competition and agreeing to run a fair and principled campaign, John McCain has shot himself in the foot.

How he'll be able to win the election without resorting to character assassination isn't at all clear. It's been the secret weapon that's pulled the Republicans through elections such as the one in '04 despite their low polling numbers.
Jay, Winnipeg Canada

Obama is a rising star in our country with experience from living around the world that no other presidential candidate has ever had. He will be viewed by the rest of the world differently that George W. Bush was. McCain is too conservative for many women because of his stand against a woman's right to choose on reproductive rights and his stand against equal rights for gays and lesbians. Many young people will work hard to help Obama to defeat McCain. It will take time for Hillary's supporters to come to Obama, but they will on these issues, I believe.
Alice MacDonald Long, Bar Harbor, Maine

As a European of mixed nationalities parentage, a child of the second World War and Cold War living in Eastern Europe, I am concerned that Obama's complete lack of experience will make him an easy play for the Russians, Chinese and other authoritarian regimes/dictatorships. He comes across as a "soft touch". If he has been lauded by the likes of ex-president Carter who was so aptly manipulated by, for example, the Iranian regime (hostage crisis)then I would vote for McCain. The man is experienced and understands the nature of international politics. As to domestic policies that is an unknown with both candidates.
mike, warsaw, poland

B. Husseim Obama will not win the presidency, he is a paper tiger. The more we see him the less credible he is. He is charismatic but has no substance. Race but his lack of vision and empty words will come back to bite him.
Nadia Hoots, Virginia Beach Va USA

My guess is that the war lovers will go for McCain,he's just a clone of what we have right now. The voters that want change/peace will opt for Obama.
Rick Crammond, Wesley, USA

The Republicans have ruined our economy, got us into the Iraqi war with no strategy, ran up gas prices to intolerable prices and have nothing to offer us in looking at the present or future. I've always been afraid Bush/Cheney would get us into WWIII they are so erratic and trigger happy. What vision have they shown us on any issue? Obama has vision and can provide us the leadership much needed to restore America's image in the world. I would vote for a tree before I'd vote Republican! Obama has my vote.
Jim Miller, Chattanooga, Tennessee

This election will take a nasty turn and be conducted on a nasty tone. Race will be a major driving force and the Democrats are to blame for creating this tone and pouring salt on America's open Racial wounds. It is unsaid in most circles--Democrat or Republican---but many of us worry about having to deal with the ramifications of an Obama failure or death. He is a great man that the country (as a whole) is not ready for. If there is any failures in his presidency it will be because of his race--it will be use as a rallying cry just as pro life people use pictures of abortions. If he does not get the presidency his race will be the reason as well. No matter what America decides this year---we have lost already and our divided country could be lost.
jonathan heekin, Richmond Va USA

I'm from Illinois and Obama is totally lacking in experience to be President of this country. He is a socialist, his wife will not be an asset, she is worse than Hillary, and if our country elects him I will be in England a lot! God bless America but not Obama.
bonnie simonds,

The Democrats ran fierce campaigns at the Primaries. In fact, it had an aura of the real race for the White House between two very different Political parties. No one would have thought the two Democratic candidates would be speaking the same language, with a common goal and perspective etc etc. John McCain could easily use their own weapons against them. Alas, they ran such vigorous but destructive Primaries!
Joseph, Melbourne, Australia

Elections this year is not about ideology. What we need is a president who can bring this country back from the pit. It¿s about this country's future as a leader in the World. I believe John is the right candidate. He is known for reaching out to the other side of the tables when things needs to be accomplished. His track record shows that. Obama is an unknown and he is clearly a media favor, without the media he is no one. As Bill Clinton once stated, Media loves the fairy tales, he may be right, and clearly current Hillary numbers reflect that fact. Being eloquent and media charm may not give Obama enough push in the fall.
Ram, Philadelphia

I hope we will see an Obama-Clinton Presidential ticket this fall because I think it would be unbeatable. But I will vote a straight Democratic ticket come hell or high water. I am a 66 year old, white male, and I'm sick and tired of Republicans (all Republicans). I would vote for the Democrat and hope that the pamper the rich Republican tax cuts would disappear forever, that we would get out of Iraq as soon as possible, try really hard to save our economy and put a stop to the bankrupting policies of the present administration. And yes I heard that senile old fool McCain say that we could be in Iraq 100 years from now. Is this border line insanity or what?
Daniel W. Anderson, Kansas City, Missouri, USA

It is time for USA to show the world that America is an IDEA and not a mere geographical locale on the planet earth. Obama is young ,energetic and smart enough to lead our country in the right direction. McSame is going to stick to the old ideas and push us deeper into debt and worsen the US standing in the eyes of the rest of the world. Obama (for that matter anyone other than Mcsame) will not even come close to the exceeding incompetency demonstrated by George Bush. We went to Middle east to protect the American interest and now we have lost control over of oil and the price over it as well.
Rajagopal, San Antonio, Texas, USA

Ahhh, the 60s. If the GOP thinks this will bring back negative memories, well my friends... we baby boomer's who span the economic-cultural spectrum, just might have fond memories of a time we actually thought that what we thought mattered... beware of swift boat karma... It might just sink you...
B, Miami, Fl

If I were MacCain,I would pounce on Obamas youthtful exuberance, compound it with less experience.I would avoid race card, but rather be as conservative in matters like gun control,abortion as it could be possible and hope situaion in Iraq could improve.As Obama,I would talk on generation change wihout talking of age,stress on Bush third term under MacCain,health insurance, explain Reagens,Nixon,JFK diplmatic contact with opposing nations,insinuate Bush MacCans war mongery.
Sunny Ekwenugo, Berlin, Germany

I think it's fair to say that the republicans will now win this election. Obama doesn't have any real policies and his fan base south of North Carolina will be be, minimal. This will be an opportunity missed for those who wanted real and achievable change.
B, DC, USA

John McCain walks around Baghdad in a full body armor and a Kevlar helmet surrounded by a battalion of Marines and says "things are getting back normal in Iraq¿ He doesn¿t know the difference between Sunni and Shia, says Iran is training Al Quada. He admits he knows little about the economy. This man would be a CATASTROPHY. He's dangerously delusional and would start World War III. Obama MUST be elected.
Greg Garvin, Pittsburgh, PA

This is clearly a pivotal moment in US history, not only within the country but in the eyes of the world. The trends that will shape the future are emerging more and more clearly, and the US has been on the wrong side of many of them. Unless it can renew itself and draw on all its resources of creativity and intelligence, the US will simply join the list of failed civilizations. The key to success will be in leadership and this election hinges on the perception of who can provide that leadership. It is still unclear to many whether Sen. Barama can provide it, but a majority of Americans know in their hearts that Sen. McCain cannot.
Peter Westbrook, Rockville, MD USA

It's a scary but exhilirating time for the American left. Obama is the real deal - a once in a generation orator and an accomplished politician. But we only have to look at the last administration to know that the Republicans will stop at nothing, legal or illegal, to stay in power. This is going to be a real battle.
Dr. Martha Graber, Norwich, Vermont

I am a Hilary supporter and support most Democrates, but I am also an admirer of John McCain. With Hilary out of the race, come November I will vote for McCain.
J A Jones, WIsconsin, USA

As Tony Fabrizio points out, Obama is a radical. This can only become more apparent now that the debate is between a moderate and a radical. Obama's inexperience and lack of a track record will aggravate this problem. It seems very common in the U.S. for Democrats to cherish delusions, like those of the religious right, that they represent the middle ground of U.S. opinion.

The American media, by and large, have much the same set of delusions as the Democrats. Victories against Republicans belonging or pandering to the religious right feed the delusions. This year, the national Republican party has--under threat of an anti-Bush backlash--responded to the times, for the first time in over a generation fielding a candidate whose popular appeal goes beyond ideology and party loyalty (as even Reagan's did not). The Democrats continue to live in the past. Their delusions, and those of the media, still don't allow them to fully realize what's happened. I think there will be many rude awakenings between now and November, and Obama has nowhere to go but down.

McCain's age will be a secondary issue compared with such basic matters as whether or not the candidate sees the world as it is, and the half-baked, large-scale enforced social experiments to which the Democrats are addicted. There will, inevitably, be more attention than usual on McCain's choice of running mate. But the only mistake McCain can make now is to link himself firmly with the Republican old guard, which is obviously suicidal, less necessary than ever, and would be difficult even if he wanted to, since he and the old guard have repeatedly shown that they are like oil and water.

Wars, rumors of wars, and other international shocks that might intervene can only benefit McCain. A decisive economic downturn might give the election to Obama, but only if he hasn't lost too much ground otherwise, and only if enough voters are sufficiently ignorant to forget the connection between the economy and international matters (above all the Middle East), and sufficiently selfish to hope that government handout will insulate them personally from general economic disaster.
Ken Timoner, Edina, Minnesota, U.S.A.

Obama probably would win in Europe. But in Amercia we need knowledge and experience to get our country out of the crisis the Bush and Cheney administration has buried us under. America is on the verge of collapse because our govnernment consists of millionaires. Obama is a millionaire too. So, at minimum elect the most experienced millionaire.
Skeptic, Washington, D.C. USA

Other than the shouldn't-matter-in-2008 factors of being young and black, can anyone explain in a precise fashion what exactly Obama actually intends on doing?? I'm very lost at the moment, because whilst all his campaign rallies etc. look very exciting theres never anything about what his actual plans are. It seems to me his appeal is based on 'He looks kinda like a black Kennedy! maybe that means hes the same cos things that feel similar must be, right?'

At least with McCain you know what he stands for, America kickin' butt and takin' names. Seems to me that the most important factor in modern elections in western countries is who makes the voters feel all squishy about themselves on the inside, rather than detail on policies, which I take as further sign of the deep decadence of our political castes...or am I being grotesquely naive expecting any rationality in the process?
brad cohen, Staines, UK

'We try so hard to get ahead of the story that we end up making certain predictions about many things that reasonable people agree are unknowable.'

So basically nobody knows what is going to happen in this race. What a revelation!
Carl, Coventry, UK




Electoral College votes

Winning post 270
Obama - Democrat
365
McCain - Republican
173
Select from the list below to view state level results.

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