ARI SHAPIRO, host:
Last night, Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama accused his rival, Hillary Clinton, of stirring up a controversy over disqualified delegates from Florida. He said seating those delegates is Clinton's last slender hope of winning the nomination. Even so, Obama has been acting more like a general- election candidate lately, aiming at the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain.
McCain, in turn, has trained his sights exclusively on Obama. And in exchanges between them, you can already hear signs of animus. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.
DON GONYEA: It must be noted that as senators and as fellow presidential hopefuls, John McCain and Barack Obama have a healthy dose of respect for one another. But don't take my word for it. Comments like these can be heard at most every single event they host:
Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona, Presumed Presidential Nominee): I admire and respect Senator Obama.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, Presidential Candidate): I respect and honor John McCain's service to our country. He's a genuine war hero.
GONYEA: But that's hardly the whole picture. In fact, such lines generally serve as the preamble to a strong, sharp critique that's not all about the issues. Let's play the rest of the Obama tape you just heard.
Sen. OBAMA: But John McCain has decided to run for George Bush's third term, and we can't afford it.
GONYEA: Same pattern holds for McCain.
Sen. MCCAIN: For a young man with very little experience, he's done very well.
GONYEA: The back and forth on a subject like Iran and whether the U.S. should negotiate with that country's leaders has been particularly intense, with Obama asking at an event in Billings, Montana, what is John McCain afraid of?
Sen. OBAMA: Demanding that a country meets all your conditions before you meet with them, that's not a strategy, it's just naïve wishful thinking.
GONYEA: That prompted this from McCain, using the same kind of dismissive language and tone.
Sen. MCCAIN: I think it displays a degree of naivety and clearly someone who's not prepared to be president of the United States.
GONYEA: Much has also been written about the difference in age between McCain and Obama. The Republican is 25 years older than the Democrat. That would be the widest gap between the two parties' nominees in history. Obama has made indirect reference to it by saying McCain represents the old way of doing things in Washington.
McCain was even more direct when noting Obama's relative youth. This is from a few days ago on an airport tarmac in Stockton, California.
Sen. MCCAIN: With his very, very great lack of experience and knowledge of the issues, he's been very successful. So, don't get me wrong, I admire and respect Senator Obama. But he does not have the knowledge, background or judgment to lead this nation in these difficult and challenging times.
GONYEA: Obama, meanwhile, has been going after McCain over the Washington lobbyists who play key roles in his campaign. Several were asked to step down this week after revelations about foreign clients they represented. One had even lobbied McCain on behalf of the government of Saudi Arabia.
Sen. OBAMA: The fact is John McCain's campaign is being run by Washington lobbyists and paid for with their money. Senator McCain has been a candidate in this race for more than a year, but it was only in the last few days when stories surfaced publicly about his lobbyist aides and their clients that Senator McCain took any action to curb their role.
GONYEA: McCain, meanwhile, shot back, noting that early in his political career Obama had a connection to William Ayers, today a college professor who, in the 1960s, was a member of the radical Weather Underground. And so it has begun, a sure indication that promises to run on the issues doesn't mean sharp elbows won't be thrown if, indeed, these two candidates make their emerging rivalry official in the fall.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.
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