Political Wrap-Up: Obama's Overseas Tour

Sen. Barack Obama is back in his hometown of Chicago after his tour of Afghanistan, the Middle East and Europe. Renee Montagne talks with news analyst Cokie Roberts about Obama's trip and what Sen. John McCain was doing while Obama was out of the country.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

As promised, some perspective now from NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee. Welcome back.

MONTAGNE: Oh, thanks. Glad to be back. A little rest...

ROBERTS: Good.

MONTAGNE: ...can do wonders. As we have just heard at the end there of David's report, one way John McCain handled Barack Obama's publicity abroad was by taking on his own party, the Republicans.

ROBERTS: Well, it's hardly unusual for John McCain to criticize the Congress where he, as David says, has served for 25 years. And it's certainly not unusual for him to criticize the president of his own party. And probably the more he does that, the better off he is with independent and swing voters.

And he keeps appealing to them by talking about working across party lines, getting things done with senators of the other party, which is true. He has done that. But there's this kind of dual argument going on. On the one hand, he's a maverick who works against people. On the other hand, he's a person who can work with people. It's kind of a bifurcated message. And that's always the problem with senators when they get into presidential campaigns, which is why we don't generally elect senators for president.

Now this year, each party seems to be nominating one, so we're likely to elect a senator president. But it is interesting, Barack Obama is much more in the mold of the last senator we elected president, John Kennedy, who was barely a senator when he became president, and it's ironic that the charge against Obama, which is that he's inexperienced and hasn't done much of anything, is really less of a problem going into a presidential campaign than that you have been a senator for 25 years or a member of Congress for 25 years and that you've done a lot of things, because that always opens you up to flip-flopping and giving a muddled message. That has certainly been a problem for John McCain.

MONTAGNE: And now that Barack Obama is back in the U.S., he's turning to the issue that the majority of Americans say they care most about, and that, of course, is the economy. And he has a pretty high-powered meeting set for today. Tell us about that.

ROBERTS: He's going to meet with some of the titans of the American economy: Warren Buffett and Bob Reuben, people who make you feel extremely comfortable when you see them being consulted about economic matters. And once again, this is just a brilliant moment in the Obama campaign - you know, that the high-level, beautiful pictures of, you know, these very sort of substantial men, and it will be a well-staged event in the same way that we've seen incredibly well-staged events for the last week, and the message will be out there. All right, now I'm done with my foreign trip. It's time to turn to hard-hit America.

MONTAGNE: Well, as you say, Obama understands that focusing on the economy is a smart thing for him to do - as you said, brilliant in certain ways at this moment in time. Why does he seem, though, to be having so much trouble in states that are hard hit economically?

ROBERTS: Well, because he hasn't closed the deal, and the Republican National Committee is sending out messages with that sort of headline, that he can't get above 50 percent. He can't close the deal with white, working-class voters. And it is true that McCain is running well in states like Michigan and Ohio, at the moment running ahead in Colorado, so that it is not a done deal for Barack Obama by any means, despite the pictures coming out of Berlin last week.

MONTAGNE: So, clearly, both campaigns looking at that state-by-state analysis, trying to determine the right vice presidential choice. What do you think?

ROBERTS: Well, John McCain says that he is not going to be jet scrambling, that he was quoted as saying that he said he didn't say that. But he does need to do something to get people paying attention to this campaign, probably before the Olympics kick in. And it's tough for him, because who's that person going to be? For Obama, it's a little bit easier - a white male governor or senator.

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

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