Political Wrap-Up: Georgia Conflict; Edwards' Affair

NPR News Analyst Cokie Roberts talks with Renee Montagne about the presidential candidates' responses to the crisis in Georgia, and whether it could help them or hurt them with voters. They also discuss former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards' admission of a romance with a former campaign worker.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Russia continues its attacks on neighboring Georgia, sending tanks and troops into two separatist regions there and bombing sites inside Georgia. Fighting began last Thursday, when Russia when moved in after Georgia tried to reclaim its separatist region of south Ossetia. President Bush met with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at the Olympics this past weekend and said that the violence was unacceptable.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I express my grave concern about the disproportionate response of Russia, and that we strongly condemn, you know, bombing outside of south Ossetia.

MONTAGNE: That's President Bush speaking to NBC's Bob Costas from the Beijing Olympics. And in the U.S., the two presidential candidates have also weighed on events in Georgia. With us to talk about their responses is news analyst Cokie Roberts, who joins us every Monday. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, there have been comments about this sort of shades of the Cold War. What have Barack Obama and John McCain had to say about the situation between Russia and Georgia, and what can we learn from their responses?

ROBERTS: Well, I think we can learn a good bit. John McCain came out instantly, condemning Russia, saying it should, quote, "immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory," where Barack Obama called on all sides to show restraint. Then immediately, the two campaigns weighed in, with the McCain campaign saying that Obama was curiously in synch with Moscow, the Obama campaign saying that a McCain aide had been a former lobbyist for Georgia. That led McCain to respond that he has been a long-time friend of Georgia - a state that has been very friendly toward the United States - and McCain has been very friendly to Georgia's president.

Clearly, he hopes his tough response in this foreign policy crisis would show that he is more experienced, less risky to the American public.

MONTAGNE: Which candidate, in your opinion, is likely to be closer to where the voters are right now? I mean, the candidate who says this is unacceptable and is taking a tough stand, or the one who says let's talk about it?

ROBERTS: Well, I think probably, ironically, the one who says let's talk, even though, as you said earlier, there's Cold War sort of specter hanging over this and nobody likes the idea of Russian tanks moving into any other country.

The Iraq War has certainly tamped down any American appetite for involvement abroad. And I think that that is something that President Bush is well aware of as he tries to deal with this crisis as well.

MONTAGNE: Now, Obama is spending the week on vacation in Hawaii. He's taking a vacation, he says, because it's good for his family. But is it a good point in the presidential campaign?

ROBERTS: It's a little rough to be doing it at this point, although he, you know, I think he's feeling somewhat secure. But Hawaii is also a somewhat odd place to be doing it. I know that he is from Hawaii, grew up there, his grandmother lives there. But he has made such a point about how he is from Kansas and - the boy from Kansas and Kenya. And it makes him seem a little more exotic than perhaps he would want to come across as at this stage in the presidential campaign.

MONTAGNE: Now there was some very damaging news in the last few days about a romance between former candidate, presidential candidate, Democrat John Edwards, and a campaign worker, someone who was taking films of the campaign. Could that have any effect on this campaign?

ROBERTS: I don't think so. It's obviously not helpful, and I think that John Edwards is now - at least for the time being - dead in the water politically. So I don't think you're going to see him in an Obama administration, if there is an Obama administration. And you certainly won't see him at the Democratic convention.

There was some agreement about that convention over the weekend, though, Renee. Michelle Obama will speak the first night, Hillary Clinton the second night, and she will be the headliner on the anniversary of women's suffrage. The third night will be Bill Clinton and the vice presidential nominee, whoever that is, and then, of course, that huge rally for Barack Obama at Mile High Stadium the fourth night.

So the Democrats seem to be at least somewhat coming together, but the question of a roll call vote for Hillary Clinton is still up in the air.

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

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