McCain, Obama Focus On Economy

Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama have turned their attention to the economy. McCain is discussing jobs and energy, and has called for offshore drilling. Obama has met with top economic advisers, including former Bush administration officials.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

We're now less than a hundred days from the presidential elections - 99 to be precise. After a week of foreign travel by Barack Obama and heated debate over Iraq policy, the two presidential candidates are turning their attention to the economy. Today in Washington, Obama met with a high-profile collection of economic advisors. They were seated around a table as Obama spoke to the press.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): Americans are hurting right now, and that means that we've got to respond rapidly and vigorously to problems as they emerge, but also anticipate the problems that may be down the horizon.

BLOCK: Meanwhile, John McCain was in Bakersfield, California. Standing in the middle of an oilfield, he talked about development of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar. He pressed his point that finding new sources of oil is still important.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): As we develop all of these alternate sources of energy, it will be vital that we continue oil production at a high level including offshore drilling.

BLOCK: For more on both campaigns, we turn to NPR's Mara Liasson. And Mara, let's start with John McCain in California, clearly connecting troubles in the economy with this idea for more offshore drilling - an idea he opposed and then now supports.

MARA LIASSON: That's right. All week, McCain is going to be talking about energy and jobs. Offshore drilling is one of his big contrasts with Obama. Offshore drilling is also very popular now that gas is four dollars and up a gallon. The Democrats have a very big advantage on the economy, about 20 points. And Obama is benefiting from that generic advantage. Also, he's benefiting from the intense dissatisfaction with the economy under Bush. But I think it's fair to say that neither of these candidates has broken through yet with a specific economic message. It is the number one issue for voters.

BLOCK: Hmm. Briefly, Mara, one other topic with John McCain. He said today that he had had a small patch of skin removed from his cheek as a precaution, but he has had surgery before for melanoma.

LIASSON: This is part of his post-skin cancer care. He goes to the dermatologist every few months. Occasionally, she takes some skin from his cheek and biopsies it, that's what she did today.

BLOCK: Okay. Let's talk about Barack Obama now. Last week, he was in Europe and the Middle East meeting with foreign leaders. Today, quite a collection of prominent economic leaders.

LIASSON: Yes, it was kind of a domestic counterpoint to last week. Instead of Gordon Brown and Nicholas Sarkozy, today, it was Warren Buffett and Paul Volker. The whole point of last week's trip was to showcase Obama as a credible world leader. The downside, potential downside to the trip was being - seeming to be campaigning for German votes with that big rally.

That's why he pivoted so quickly back to the economy and said(ph) he wasn't just meeting with the usual roster of Democratic economic luminaries, like Robert Rubin and Robert Reich who were there, but also, Paul Volker, Warren Buffett, and two ex-Bush officials - former Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill and former Bush SEC chair William Donaldson.

BLOCK: There's one aftereffect of that overseas trip by Barack Obama. The McCain campaign has now released an ad talking about the fact that last week, Obama cancelled a visit to Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany. Let's take a listen to a bit of that.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Man: And now, he made time to go to the gym but canceled a visit with wounded troops. It seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras. John McCain is always there for our troops.

BLOCK: Okay, Mara, what's up with this ad?

LIASSON: Well, look, he - it's not true that he didn't go to visit the troops because he couldn't bring in cameras. He did go to visit troops in Iraq and Afghanistan without cameras. But it's also true he could've gone in alone without staff, that's what the Pentagon wasn't going to let him do, because they were campaign staff. But I think this ad really does illustrate something else about this campaign.

One of the reasons that the horserace right now is so close - even though Obama is running a great campaign, has a popular brand behind him, the Democratic Party. McCain is running a less-than-sure-footed campaign, has a very bad brand behind him, the Republican Party, which is in the dumps, Obama still only has a three-point lead in the RealClearPolitics average. The reason is he hasn't cleared the commander-in-chief hurdle. McCain's job is to make sure he doesn't clear it, and that's why McCain is running ads like this one.

BLOCK: Okay, Mara, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson.

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