With Obama Away, McCain Polishes Domestic Plans

Barack Obama has been making news traveling around the Middle East in an effort to strengthen his foreign policy experience. John McCain is at home polishing his credentials on domestic economic issues.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's go next to Barack Obama's home base - Chicago - which is where we found NPR's Juan Williams for some analysis, live.

Juan, good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: We just heard from Don Gonyea that this visit to Iraq didn't necessarily change Obama's position on the war. Do you think it is changing political perceptions of Obama at home?

WILLIAMS: It's not clear yet. I think this thing is still in the offing, if you will. So far, so good. No stumbles. And I think a lot of people were looking to see if there was any gaffe that would embarrass him as he mounts the international stage.

The key political question, Steve, is, you know, what American voters think, because polls have shown that foreign policy is a major point of doubt that voters have about Senator Obama. In polls, Senator John McCain is thought to know more about world affairs and more prepared to be commander-in-chief.

In specific, if you want to break it down, blue-collar voters in swing states are really looking at Obama here. They want to see is, you know, is this a fact-finding trip, is he listening? Or, as the McCain campaign has been suggesting, is it a photo op with Obama using the war zone and American soldiers as props.

And I think his own supporters want to know if this is really the first indication that he may change his position, his commitment, to ending the war. So lots of issues there.

INSKEEP: Why would blue collar voters be the ones that would be particularly concerned about Obama's foreign policy credentials?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, I think they have the greatest doubts. He had the hardest time winning them in the primary process. And what you see when you look at the polls now is, again, this whole notion of experience is one that's creating the sense of risk or doubt about Senator Obama. And what's preventing him from, if you will, closing the sale with them, convincing them that, yes, they can trust him on domestic issues, but they can also trust him in terms of dealing with world affairs.

INSKEEP: So when you say blue collar voters, is that another way of saying white working class voters, as it was often put during the primary campaign?

WILLIAMS: You're so blunt, Steve.

INSKEEP: I guess so. I guess so. I'm curious about something, Juan Williams. I wonder if these candidates, on Iraq at least, are almost seeing a convergence in their views and their policies. John McCain thinks the surge has worked, that the increase in U.S. troops over the last year or more has worked. Iraqis seem to think so too and seem to think that that means that U.S. troops can prepare to get out of Iraq, which is what Barack Obama wants. Did they end up on the same page at some point, even though they would never agree to that?

WILLIAMS: Well, of course they would never acknowledge it. I think what you heard was Prime Minister Maliki over the weekend saying something like that. President Bush is now talking about horizons. Senator McCain saying with the surge working we can consider that, but we have to be sensitive to issues on the ground.

So he would never - Senator McCain would never agree to any kind of deadline or timeline for withdrawal, but what he is talking about is, again, emphasizing the success of the surge and making the point that Senator Obama was opposed to the surge.

So it's a back and forth there. But I think that the clear point - and here's the benefit for Senator Obama - he's driving much of this conversation. His emphasis on a timeline, it was not part of the conversation until he forced it to be. And now you have President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki talking in his terms.

INSKEEP: One other question before we let you go, Juan Williams. I want to ask about John McCain and the economy. His campaign has been in a little bit of trouble in recent days, as you know. Has McCain stabilized his message there? Do his advisors feel that he's - do his advisors feel that he's in a good position as far as the economy goes and the election approaches?

WILLIAMS: Well, no. I mean, they're still working on it. you know, he's - this week he's spending lots of time in swing states. And where is he going? He's going to grocery stores, hardware stores. He's going to talk about energy issues, health care. That's his way of trying to get a grip on that economic message that he's having trouble with.

And there's also some thought that maybe this week he would appoint or name a vice presidential candidate to try to steal some thunder from Obama while Obama's on his trip. And the names that are out there include people who would offer some expertise on the economy. People like Mitt Romney or Rob Portman.

INSKEEP: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: Analysis this morning from NPR's Juan Williams.

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