McCain's Strategy vs. Obama

Scott Simon talks with Republican strategist David Winston about how Sen. John McCain, the GOP's presumptive nominee, can best take on Sen. Barack Obama in the race for the White House.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

So how does a national hero run against to man who has now become a figure in American history? Very carefully. David Winston is a Republican strategist who advised former speaker Newt Gingrich and former Senator William Frist, among others. He joins us in our studios. Mr. Winston, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. DAVID WINSTON (Republican Pollster, Strategist): Glad to be here.

SIMON: Americans generally - all across the political spectrum, seem to be proud that this milestone... ..TEXT: Mr. WINSTON: Ahah...

SIMON: Of Senator Obama's nomination has been achieved in American history. Is there some hazard - do you have to take particular care in criticizing Senator Obama in a certain way?

Mr. WINSTON: In terms of talking about issues, no problem. And the fact is he did something big - acknowledge it, just as Obama has done in terms of talking about John McCain's experiences as a P.O.W. He's clearly acknowledged it and then sort of pivots off - but we do have some disagreements. To some degree, McCain's got to learn how to do the same thing now talking about Obama.

SIMON: Any issues that are promising for him?

Mr. WINSTON: Well, certainly. I mean, he starts off with having some strength in terms of national security issues. But the number one issue facing this country, I would expect that the biggest area of debate that we're going to watch between the two candidates is the economy. And as a key sub-element of that, obviously, gas prices.

John McCain's got to come up with exactly what he's going to be for. You're watching Obama start to develop his now that he gets out of the primary, and I don't think at this point it's clear who's going to have the upper hand. The one thing that McCain does have that is going to prove to be a challenge to Obama is he does have some access to independents that perhaps other Republican candidates don't. Inversely, you have Obama having access to younger voters and sort of more well-to-do affluent voters.

And so you're looking at a situation that I think is particularly interesting, that maybe in perhaps previous elections, where the Republican candidate had access to maybe 52 percent, the Democrat 51, so there was no middle. Both of these folks have access to maybe 60, 65 percent of the electorate. And so it's a very different election.

SIMON: In your judgment, should Senator McCain say anything about race?

(Soundbite of silence)

SIMON: Now, you realize a lot of people are just going to hear that long pause.

Mr. WINSTON: Well, because it's a very complicated question, and there was a long pause there. I mean, there's a historic achievement here. So that is a positive step forward for the entire country that I think the entire country sees.

But in another level, what that's also saying is that Barack Obama has gotten this country beyond race at a certain level. And so do you want to bring up something that in essence could be conflictive with the event that just happened? My personal suggestion to him would be stick to issues. Appreciate Barack Obama's achievement in sort of being the first African-American presidential candidate. Bbut this country wants to know where the economy is going, and what we're going to do in Iraq.

SIMON: Senator McCain has recently been kidding himself publicly about age. Is this a patter he should keep up?

Mr. WINSTON: My guess is you'll see his mother quite a bit on the campaign trail as a...

SIMON: Whose age...

Mr. WINSTON: Who's in her 90s and is pretty boisterous for 95, as an example of the gene pool that he comes from, so he's physically fine. But I think that's a sort of entertaining and pleasant way for the American people to sort of hear him discuss age in a way that sort of takes some of the tension of that discussion now.

SIMON: Will Senator McCain's selection for vice president - does it diffuse either the race or age issue?

Mr. WINSTON: From my personal point of view, he needs to have someone on the ticket not from a regional wing of ideology point of view. I think what he needs is someone who has got significant credibility in terms of the economy, and that it would be a significant help to him.

SIMON: David Winston is a Republican strategist. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. WINSTON: Pleasure.

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