Who Cares About Candidates Stance On Russia? Both presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama have condemned Russia's invasion of Georgia. But how do their individual reactions reflect on their campaigns? Slate.com political correspondent John Dickerson examines whether the candidates' views on the conflict matter to voters.
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Who Cares About Candidates Stance On Russia?

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Who Cares About Candidates Stance On Russia?

Who Cares About Candidates Stance On Russia?

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

We're joined now by slate.com's chief political correspondent, John Dickerson. Well, Secretary Albright said that we need to re-examine our relationships going forward. Let's talk about the two political campaigns. John McCain, Barack Obama, how are they faring with this issue?

Mr. JOHN DICKERSON (Chief Political Correspondent, Slate.com): Well, they're both jumping on this issue to show that they have the credentials to step into the commander-in-chief role. But McCain is really playing it to a fare-thee-well. I mean, he announced various different policy proposals.

He has a long history of caring about Georgia, paying attention to Georgia. He sees it as an opportunity to, one, show voters that it's a dangerous world, two, show that he can jump in, in a crisis, and be ready to respond, that he doesn't need a lot of briefings. and that, you know, he's really ready to step into the job. And there's some evidence in the polling that that's the kind of thing that voters like about him, when they look at the two candidates side by side.

Barack Obama did a fine job, you know, weighing in when he's in Hawaii on vacation, which puts him in a slight disadvantage in terms of the optics. But he said essentially the same kinds of things that McCain said. But, again, he's on vacation, and just, if you're looking at it purely from the theater of this, McCain had the better hand in terms of how this played out.

CHADWICK: John, there's been a lot of comment on the left about Senator McCain's senior foreign policy advisor. His name's Randy Scheunemann. He was a lobbyist until a few months ago whose clients include Georgia.

And, specifically in April, Senator McCain made a very supportive call to Georgia and statement for Georgia. Mr. Scheunemann was his foreign policy advisor then and, on that same day, his company signed another 200,000 dollar contract to represent Georgia in Washington. Where's this going to go?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, this is a big deal for the Obama campaign and for those on the left because it goes right at McCain's central claim about being sort of above politics and not being tied to the special interests. Well, here you have an instance in which he's quite closely tied to special interests, and, in fact, he has a lobbyist working in his actual campaign. So it has less to do with the specifics of Georgia.

You could argue, in fact, from the McCain standpoint that, you know, it's good that he has an expert on his team who knows about this country. But the point from the Obama campaign is, how can McCain claim to be a change agent in Washington, that he's going to reform the system, when he's got his campaign hardwired with lobbyists who are, you know, in the thick of these kinds of deals.

CHADWICK: You mentioned a moment ago that Senator Obama is on vacation in Hawaii this week. You're in Chicago with his campaign following things there. There's a new Pew poll this week finding that his lead is disappearing. What are you hearing there in Chicago?

Mr. DICKERSON: First of all, the senator may be on vacation, but they're busy as the dickens here in Chicago. Their headquarters is just teeming with people, and they're all paying attention, not so much to the national polls - in fact, only to the national polls to the extent that we bring it up.

They're paying attention to those 12 to 18 battleground states. They care how news is delivered to those very important states that are going to determine this election, and they point out, for example, let's look at Pennsylvania, a state that everybody - and where there's lot of Democrats that say, oh, Barack Obama is going to have so much trouble in Pennsylvania because Hillary Clinton beat him there during the primaries. Well, he's pasting McCain in the polls in Pennsylvania.

So they focus specifically, if you look at their ad campaigns, they're running some national ads, but they're also running targeted ads in Wisconsin, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania at McCain, taking him on pretty hard because they are focused on the battleground map. So these national polls for them are something they try to ignore.

CHADWICK: Slate.com's chief political correspondent, John Dickerson. We'll talk again, John. Thanks.

Mr. DICKERSON: Thank you.

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