Campaign Roundup: Obama, McCain Trading Jabs Barack Obama is home from his tour of Iraq, Afghanistan and Europe, but the trip did not give him a bounce in the polls. John McCain's poll numbers were not hurt by Obama's trip, but he was hammered by the media and some Republicans for a series of negative attacks on Obama.

Campaign Roundup: Obama, McCain Trading Jabs

Campaign Roundup: Obama, McCain Trading Jabs

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Barack Obama is home from his tour of Iraq, Afghanistan and Europe, but the trip did not give him a bounce in the polls. John McCain's poll numbers were not hurt by Obama's trip, but he was hammered by the media and some Republicans for a series of negative attacks on Obama.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos in for Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

When Barack Obama came home from his tour of Iraq, Afghanistan and Europe, it turned that the trip that generated so much good publicity had not given him a bounce in the polls. At the same time, John McCain's poll numbers weren't hurt by Obama's trip. But McCain was hammered this week by the press and some Republicans for a series of negative attacks on Obama.

We've called NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson to get an end of the week review of where the campaigns stand. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So, let me start with the kafuffle, if you don't mind me calling it that. The McCain campaign is accusing Obama of playing the race card - a little bit of a turnaround. Let's talk about that.

LIASSON: Yes. Yesterday the McCain campaign charged Obama with using the race card and they said he used it from the bottom of the deck. And they were referring to three separate comments that Obama made in Missouri on Wednesday, and here's one of them.

BARACK OBAMA: So, nobody really thinks that Bush or McCain had a real answer for the challenges we face, so what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, oh, he's not patriotic enough; he's got a funny name; you know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills, you know?


LIASSON: So, the key point in that statement is the definition of they. There has been a lot of racism directed against Barack Obama, certainly in the Democratic primaries; certainly in this underground email chain saying that he's a Muslim, which is a false charge; and among bloggers. But those charges have not come from McCain. He has not talked about Obama's funny name or how he looks.

MONTAGNE: On the other hand, Mara, McCain has made some attacks on Obama this week that were personal and controversial. Especially this ad we're going to hear a bit of.


Unidentified Woman: He's the biggest celebrity in the world.


Woman: But is he ready to lead?

MONTAGNE: Okay, along with images of Obama, here, looking like a big celebrity - you see pictures of other celebrities; Britney Spears and Paris Hilton in this ad. I mean, a bit silly, but also I wonder if it's hitting home?

LIASSON: Well, that's the question. There are a lot of Republicans who thought it was pretty silly. This isn't the first attack ad that McCain has aired. McCain is clearly frustrated. It's hard to get a handle on how to attack Obama. Hillary Clinton had the same problem during the primaries. And you know, Steve Schmidt, who runs the McCain campaign, believes that you always have to have two messages running at once - a negative and a positive message. Clearly McCain has been focusing on the negative message this week, but some Republicans are asking - where's the positive message?

J: not in running negative ads, because they do work - McCain - otherwise politicians wouldn't use them. But for this politician, John McCain, this year, there's a risk in being seen as negative because he is seen as a different kind of politician and has promised to run a civil campaign. But there is a real imperative on McCain to bring Obama down a notch. Because if you believe this is a race all about Obama - in other words, the wind is at his back, it's his to lose, all he has to do is prove to Americans that he's safe enough to be commander in chief, McCain has got to stop him from proving that to Americans. And that's why you see this ad on the air and others like it.

MONTAGNE: Now, has Obama made any progress on that front, provided that proof, it's That's certainly one of the reasons he went abroad.

LIASSON: Yes, it certainly is. He went abroad to improve his commander-in-chief credentials. He looked presidential on that trip. There were great images. He was meeting with foreign leaders.

But when he came back, the polls showed no change. In the head-to-head match up there was no change, but we don't really care about that right now at this point in the race. But in the internal questions that polls ask, especially the important one of who do you think would be an effective commander-in-chief - on that one, the polls show no change at all for Obama. That is his biggest hurdle. It's probably the only area where he is consistently running way behind McCain. And I think that's one of the reasons why this race has been remarkably close. The Real Clear Politics average has these two candidates only 2.5 points apart, and that's a little puzzling, given that the landscape is so tilted to the Democrats. Obama is running, basically, behind his brand - the Democratic Party - and McCain is running way ahead of his brand, the Republican Party, which is really in the dumps.

MONTAGNE: Mara, thanks much. NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson.

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