Political Wrap-Up: Trips Abroad for McCain, Obama

Republican John McCain is expected to travel to Mexico and Colombia this week in hopes of expanding his reach to Latino voters. Democrat Barack Obama is planning to shore up his foreign policy credentials by traveling to Iraq, Afghanistan and Europe in mid-July.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Sitting in for Steve Inskeep, I'm Ari Shapiro.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The campaign for the presidency is taking an international turn. This week Senator John McCain is expected to travel to Colombia and Mexico, and in the coming weeks Senator Barack Obama will visit Europe and the Middle East, including stops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Both candidates are looking to burnish their foreign policy credentials, and NPR's Cokie Roberts has been looking over their itineraries. She joins us now as she does every Monday for some analysis. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Let's start with Senator Obama. No dates announced yet for his travels, but we do know where he's headed and also probably why.

ROBERTS: Well, he actually called into an Iowa radio station over the weekend to say exactly why he was headed to Iraq, Afghanistan and Europe. You know, really the primary campaign is really officially over, with Obama and Hillary Clinton having their big meeting in Unity, New Hampshire last week. And now it really is on to the general election.

And Obama's weaknesses in the polls show that the place that McCain is ahead of him are on terrorism and international affairs. So, he is in some ways going to the belly of the beast by going to Iraq where he says his goal is to talk to the Iraqi leadership about making political progress; and Afghanistan to talk to the commanders - American commanders - on the ground to find out what to do to strengthen efforts there - I'm quoting him here.

And he says with the European allies that there are a variety of issues, including Afghanistan and Iraq, but also economic issues. So, he is obviously is trying to show the world that he is in charge when it comes to foreign affairs. The pictures will be as important as the words on those trips.

Senator McCain suggested that the two of them go to Iraqi together. Senator Obama dismissed that as political theatrics, and he's done pretty much the same thing with McCain's suggestions about joint town hall meetings.

MONTAGNE: Now, Senator McCain travels to Colombia and Mexico this week. What's his mission in those countries?

ROBERTS: Well, he says that we have shared interests and values with the Latin American partners. Talk about trade, drugs, crime, national security. But, obviously, you go to Mexico you talk about emigration. And both candidates, over this weekend, talked to Hispanic political leaders here in this country, courting that very important Hispanic vote.

Obama accused McCain of walking away from the issue of immigration during the primaries, and it is a tough issue for Republicans. Last week a Republican congressman in Utah lost his reelection bid in his primary on the issue of immigration. But McCain countered that Obama voted for the amendments that killed the immigration bill.

The Hispanic vote, though, Renee, could be very key in this election, particularly in places like Nevada and New Mexico, Colorado. And Obama lost that vote in the primaries, so we'll see what happens in the general election.

MONTAGNE: Well, what about third-party candidates - Ralph Nader and Bob Barr. How much could they hurt the various parties that they're most likely to draw -major parties - to draw votes from?

ROBERTS: Well, Ralph Nader was a spoiler in 2000 but didn't really signify in 2004. I think Republicans are quite concerned about Bob Barr running as a libertarian candidate - not so much nationally, but in Georgia, his home state. Because there's a large African-American vote in Georgia, which could turn out for Barack Obama. And if you have Bob Barr pulling away votes for McCain, that could throw the state - theoretically - to Obama. And if you have a close election, every state counts.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts.

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