Obama Return, McCain Ads Cap Week In Campaign

Barack Obama returned to the campaign trail this week, and his Republican opponent, John McCain, was waiting. McCain's ad suggested Obama is more style than substance, but the Republican found himself under fire for going negative.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris. Maybe it's the summer heat, or maybe it was the heat of the presidential campaign heading into convention season. Either way, it's been quite a week in the race between John McCain and Barack Obama.

After Obama returned home from his overseas trip, the McCain campaign greeted him with an ad suggesting Obama is more style than substance. And a debate erupted over the so-called race card and who actually played it. And while some of Obama's vulnerabilities may have come to the surface this week, McCain also took a hit for going negative.

NPR's David Greene reports on the highlights of this week in the presidential campaign.

DAVID GREENE: Let's be honest here, it's not every day that a political story includes the likes of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. But they were the rage on the trail this week after John McCain released an ad saying Obama's got their kind of star power.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Woman #1: He's the biggest celebrity in the world. But is he ready to lead?

GREENE: McCain suggested not. He told voters Obama's eloquence and passion may not mean much.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): Senator Obama says he's going to change Washington, but his solution is to simply make government bigger and raise your taxes to pay for it. We've been doing that for years, and it hasn't worked.

GREENE: That was the Arizona senator yesterday in Wisconsin, where he took some questions. One woman reminded him of his pledge to avoid negative attacks.

Unidentified Woman #2: And the one yesterday with - comparing him to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, like, I was like, okay. So it seems like Americans like me and other people, like, you may have flip-flopped on what you have said earlier. And what is your response to that?

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. McCAIN: First of all, let me say that there are differences, and we are drawing those differences. And I've said it earlier, I admire his campaign. But what we are talking about here is substance, and not style.

GREENE: Obama responded to the ad in Missouri Wednesday. He said, when it comes to substance, McCain's new ad doesn't have much.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): The only strategy they've got in this election is to try to scare you about me. They're going to try to say that I'm a risky guy. They're going to try to say, well, you know, he's got a funny name and he doesn't look like all the presidents on the dollar bills and the $5 bills.

GREENE: If Obama was trying to dismiss the new ad, that comment about U.S. currency didn't end up helping him. McCain's campaign accused Obama by saying he looks different than other presidents, of playing the race card. Obama's campaign denied any racial undertone, but since Wednesday, much of the chatter on TV has been about race and the ad.

(Soundbite of TV program montage)

Unidentified Woman #3: Who is in charge of speaking race into the race?

Unidentified Man #1: Senator Barack Obama is playing the race card here, whether smart politics or not.

Unidentified Man #2: He's playing the race card? He's…

Unidentified Man #3: I don't have to inject race into the campaign, as I was saying, for…

Unidentified Man #4: But I was saying that the McCain campaign is using the word race…

GREENE: McCain's aggressive posture this week does have some echoes of the Democratic primaries, when another candidate mocked Obama as just as a speaker who can draw adoring crowds.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): The sky will open. The light will come down. Celestial choirs will be singing, and everyone will know we should do the right thing, and the world will be perfect.

GREENE: That was Hillary Clinton in late February. About a week later, she won several primaries, including Ohio. In exit polls there, voters were asked whether the candidates had specific plans to solve problems. And on that question, Obama lagged behind Clinton by double digits.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): All right. I promised we were going to do a town hall meeting, so I'm going to take out my jacket here. We're getting serious now.

GREENE: This week, like during the primaries, Obama answered by holding question-and-answer sessions with voters. His point is to show it's not just about the big formal speeches.

Sen. OBAMA: All right, it's the guys' turn. This young man, since he's got an Obama T-shirt.

GREENE: This was Wednesday in the small town of Rolla, Missouri.

Sen. OBAMA: All right, what he's doing over there? All right, he wants to have a picture taken while he's asking the question. That's good, all right.

Mr. WADE McBRIDE(ph): It's a pleasure to speak to you, sir.

Sen. OBAMA: Thank you.

Mr. McBRIDE: My name is Wade McBride, and I recently lost my manufacturing job here in Rolla.

GREENE: At this point, Obama stopped the jokes.

Sen. OBAMA: I'm sorry you lost your job. Where were you working?

Mr. McBRIDE: Briggs and Stratton Manufacturing.

GREENE: Obama told Wade he'd invest in renewable forms of energy. That's one way, Obama said, to put people like Wade back to work.

Sen. OBAMA: We can start have a new work, building windmill that will produce energy. We can have you making solar panels because we're retrofitting all our buildings all across America.

GREENE: After Wade, Obama tried to call on another Missouri voter.

Sen. OBAMA: This young lady has been standing up the whole time.

GREENE: The woman said she was actually from Chicago.

Sen. OBAMA: What are you doing? Why are you here in Rolla?

Unidentified Woman #4: Because we heard you were going to be here.

Sen. OBAMA: Oh, see there's…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: Another reminder that Obama is a celebrity, whether it's in his best interest or not.

David Greene, NPR News.

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