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Published: Sunday, 11/2/2008

Economy dominates McCain-Obama race

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
<img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/assets/gif/weblink_icon.gif> <font color=red> <b>READ</font color=red></b>:<a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081102/NEWS09/811010251" target="_blank "><b> Planning to vote? Here s what you need to know</b></a> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/assets/gif/weblink_icon.gif> <font color=red> <b>READ</font color=red></b>:<a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081102/NEWS09/811010251" target="_blank "><b> Planning to vote? Here s what you need to know</b></a>
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Voters can t say they didn t get a clear choice for president.

The contest that comes to a head Tuesday between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain has covered a lot of territory from foreign policy to religion.

But with layoffs and mortgage meltdowns a daily staple of the news, the campaign has come to focus primarily on one topic: the economy.

Senator Obama of Illinois has barnstormed the country, reminding middle-class voters which party was in the White House when they lost their jobs and their confidence in the American Dream.

The last thing we can afford is four more years of the tired, old theory that says we should give more to billionaires and big corporations and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else, Mr. Obama said in Canton last week.

Senator McCain of Arizona, who wanted the campaign to focus on national security, only recently found an opening that has resonated with voters fear that Mr. Obama intends to raise taxes and redistribute wealth.

He is more interested in controlling wealth than in creating it, in redistributing money instead of spreading opportunity, Mr. McCain said in a speech in Kettering, Ohio, last week.

• EYES ON OHIO

As November approached, the Obama campaign was expressing confidence of winning not only the states won by Democrat John Kerry in 2004, but a slew of states that had voted Republican that year, among them Ohio.

Both candidates and their running mates have competed hard for Ohio, collectively making more than 100 appearances in the state.

The longest single visit a three-and-a-half-day debate-prep layover in Lucas County was also the occasion of Mr. Obama s impromptu meeting with Samuel Joe the Plumber Wurzelbacher of Springfield Township. In his street-front discussion with Mr. Wurzelbacher, Mr. Obama said he wants to spread the wealth around.

The conversation, caught on videotape and quickly made famous on the Internet, was brought up three days later in a nationally televised debate, opening the door to the campaign of Mr. McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, to paint Mr. Obama as a socialist, a label Mr. Obama rejects.

Ironically, the war in Iraq, which vaulted both candidates to their party s nominations, has receded as an issue.

• OBAMA S ODYSSEY

Mr. Obama, 47, if elected, would be America s first black president.

Born Barack Hussein Obama II, he is the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Hawaii.

His parents met at the University of Hawaii, where they were students, and married in Hawaii, where the future presidential candidate was born.

After graduation, his father went on to graduate from Harvard and became an economist for the Kenyan government before he died at age 46 from injuries suffered in a car crash.

His mother, the former Ann Dunham, who was born in Kansas, became an anthropologist specializing in rural development. His mother and father divorced when he was a child and he was raised by his mother and her parents in Hawaii, with some of his childhood spent in Indonesia after his mother married an Indonesian student at the University of Hawaii.

A young Barack Obama returned to Hawaii to attend a private high school. He graduated from Columbia University and Harvard law school, worked as a Chicago neighborhood organizer, and wrote two memoirs.

His mother died of ovarian cancer in 1995.

He entered politics just over a decade ago as a state senator in Illinois. His speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention was a sensation, where he proclaimed, There s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there s the United States of America.

As the race for the Democratic nomination got under way, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, the former first lady, was the favorite, and Democratic leaders quickly jumped aboard among them Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.

But Mr. Obama s early opposition to the war in Iraq and a disciplined political operation combined to propel him past Mrs. Clinton.

One of her last stands was Ohio s March 4 primary, which she captured with 53 percent of the vote despite a capacity crowd that cheered Mr. Obama at the University of Toledo on Feb. 24 and other large venues in the state.

Mrs. Clinton s strong support among white, blue-collar labor voters including those in Lucas County raised the question of whether an African-American could win that segment of the electorate.

It s a question that will be decided in two days.

Repeatedly, Mr. Obama has had to defend his patriotism and his Christian faith over suspicion over his middle name, Hussein, which was given to him by his African father; his Chicago associations, including former Weatherman radical Bill Ayers, and his earlier lack of an American flag lapel pin. He put the pin back on his lapel.

Mr. Obama has been cast by his opposition as one of the most liberal members of the Senate, and some of the legislation he supports fits that description enactment of the pay equity law for women, the Employee Free Choice Act for unions, higher taxes on wealthy Americans, and a commitment to investment in green energy and technology. He is also a supporter of abortion rights.

He gave his enemies ammunition when he was heard on tape remarking on bitter and economically frustrated voters who cling to religion and guns, which was taken as a slap at small-town Pennsylvanians, where he was competing in a primary.

But Mr. Obama has sought to be centrist where possible, including supporting gun rights, expanding the war in Afghanistan, promising strong retaliation if America is attacked, offering tax cuts for 95 percent of Americans, and casting his commitment to green energy as a way to restore the U.S. auto industry.

For vice president, Mr. Obama turned to his former rival for the nomination, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.

It was a move aimed at bringing white, working-class Americans and Catholics back to the fold, and boosting the ticket s foreign policy credibility.

• MCCAIN S JOURNEY

On the GOP side, Mr. McCain, 72, is the son of an admiral and is a Vietnam War hero. The senator is battling uphill odds but has been counted out before.

As a Navy pilot, he was shot down in 1967 over North Vietnam and endured five and a half years as a POW in Hanoi, where he was put in solitary confinement and tortured.

Back in the United States, Mr. McCain divorced his first wife, married the heiress of an Arizona beer distributorship, and got a job with her father s company. He was elected to the U.S. House in 1982 and the Senate in 1986.

Mr. McCain s career was tarnished by his involvement in the Keating Five scandal, for which he was reprimanded by the Senate Ethics Committee.

He ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination in 2000 and then went back to honing his reputation for independence. He angered his party s base over stands he took on a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, stronger campaign finance laws, stricter global warming regulation, and his opposition to President Bush s tax cuts in 2001 and 2003.

To win the 2008 Republican nomination, Mr. McCain moved to the right, endorsing the Bush tax cuts, assuring the religious right that he opposes abortion, supporting oil drilling in the outer continental shelf, and vowing to veto political pork.

Perhaps no issue endeared him to GOP voters more than his dogged support for the war in Iraq and his advocacy for the military surge that ultimately brought a measure of success to the costly U.S. occupation of Iraq.

He labeled Mr. Obama s calls for ending unfair trade pacts protectionism and promised to reduce the size of government and cut corporate taxes to free up the economy. When the credit crisis threatened to engulf the world in a massive recession, Mr. McCain first tried to insist the fundamentals of the economy were strong and later dramatically suspended his campaign to deal with the crisis.

Mr. McCain also has been the victim of ill-chosen words.

In response to a question in a town hall setting, he said he didn t care if America stayed in Iraq for 100 years. Senator McCain tried to explain he meant in a peacetime function as in Japan and South Korea.

And when asked how many homes he owned, he said he d need to ask his staff an answer that played into Democratic criticism that he was out of touch.

Mr. McCain s surprise choice for a running mate, Governor Palin, energized his conservative base and added star appeal to the GOP ticket. But it appears to have failed to woo significant numbers of female and independent voters as hoped.

Contact Tom Troy at:tomtroy@theblade.comor 419-724-6058.



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