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Page last updated at 08:07 GMT, Wednesday, 9 July 2008 09:07 UK
What next in the US elections?
By Sima Kotecha
Newsbeat US reporter

John McCain and Barack Obama

It's been over a month since the American presidential election became a two-man race. The official party nominees, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, have spent the past five weeks sparring with each other about the country's hot election topics: its wobbly economy, its national security and its involvement in the ongoing war in Iraq. Newsbeat's been taking a look at the how the presidential hopefuls have so far dealt with the big challenges they face.

JOHN McCAIN

One of the main tasks for the Vietnam war veteran has been divorcing himself from President Bush's politics.

Seventy-one per cent of Americans disapprove of the way George W Bush is handling his job as president.

As McCain is from the same party, he's got the tough job of convincing voters that he's different from the current, unpopular leader.

John McCain and his wife Cindy
John McCain and his wife Cindy visit a sandwich shop in Pittsburgh
But many Americans view them in the same light - after all they're from the same party.

For example, both of them wanted the war in Iraq and show no urgency to withdraw troops.

McCain's economic policies are a continuation of Bush's.

He says he'll apply and make permanent President Bush's tax cuts that benefit high earners.

The pair also oppose gay marriage which is a controversial subject in America at the moment after California recently legalised it.

So has John McCain managed to sell himself as a separate commodity?

Well, he's stopped mentioning George Bush as much as he used to when making speeches.

He's also not seen with him very often.

There are rumours that the two of them haven't always got on and that McCain's famous temper has flared on a numerous occasions when they've not been in agreement.

John McCain has openly fought against a small number of conservative issues showing voters he's not always on President Bush's side.

He hasn't supported his view on stem cell research or immigration.

However, John McCain's popularity has sunk since May.

He was ahead of his opponent Barack Obama in the polls but now is a few points behind.

Experts say he's got to continue distancing himself from President Bush who is linked by the majority to America's recession and its growing 'feel bad' factor.

BARACK OBAMA

Barack Obama has faced the mammoth task of uniting the Democratic party.

After a highly competitive race with Hillary Clinton where their rivalry at times got vicious, the party was looking more divided than united.

Many Americans saw cracks in the team.

Barack Obama, wife Michelle and kids Sasha and Malia
Barack Obama and family celebrate Independence Day
After all, two Democrats spent months highlighting their different stances on key party issues rather than telling the nation they were on the same side.

But Mr Obama has done a lot to show that he and the Clintons are on the same page.

A couple of weeks ago, he and Hillary Clinton addressed an audience in New Hampshire where they complimented each other, and put their arms around one another.

Hillary Clinton reiterated her endorsement for Barack Obama to be the next president.

Days later, Barack Obama had a 20-minute phone conversation with former president, Bill Clinton.

The papers reported the pair spoke about how they could work together to ensure the Democrats get back into the White House.

It's no secret that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama aren't best friends.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama
Hillary Clinton conceded defeat to Barack Obama last month
Bill Clinton openly criticised Obama on various issues during the primary season.

Barack Obama's team often told him to keep his nose out and let his wife do the debating.

But it would be fair to say the tear in the Democratic party isn't as apparent as it was when Hillary Clinton quit the race.

They seem to have "smoothed things over".

The question is, can the new found love between Barack Obama and the Clintons bring the Clinton supporters to Barack Obama's side?

The Democratic nominee needs to keep the Clintons onside to make sure he gets the 18 million who voted for Hillary in the primaries to vote for him.

NEW CHALLENGES FOR COMING MONTHS

Now the main challenges which lie ahead for John McCain include convincing Americans he can handle the nation's vulnerable economy.

After saying he wasn't an expert on Wall Street, he received criticism from the Democrats who say he's not experienced in financial matters and therefore will struggle dealing with the country in its current economic state.

John McCain in Vietnam
John McCain was captured in Vietnam after crashing into a lake
He's got to pull himself out of that rut and prove he's got the know how to deal with it.

And Barack Obama needs to show he can be a leader and handle the war in Iraq.

He's been getting flack about his lack of visits to war zones.

Later this month, he'll be on an important trip to Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East and Europe.

As John McCain is a war veteran, he's seen by many as an authority on military matters.

Barack Obama must convince voters he's capable of making the right decision about withdrawal of troops or his plans to start taking them out in 60 days could be seen as inexperienced ones.

Americans love their Presidents to look like big players on the world stage so on both this issue and the all important economy the battle for the White House will rest or fall.



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