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Obama Has the Upper Hand. But McCain Can Still Take Him.

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Attack Obama for favoring federally subsidized health insurance for illegal immigrants.

Criticize Obama for slavish devotion to the teachers' unions and willingness to compromise educational standards.

Go after the Democrats for their proposals to lower sentences for crack cocaine to make them equal to those for powder cocaine. (Instead, McCain should urge raising penalties for regular cocaine.)

McCain need not depart from long-held principles to wage any of these battles. He has always embraced these causes as a senator, and he needs to do so ever more forcefully as a candidate for president. The danger for McCain is that he will forget that he has already won the Republican nomination and retreat to safe GOP positions, which will alienate precisely the Democrats and independents whom he is uniquely positioned to attract.

Meanwhile, the right wing will carry the attack against Obama. McCain is not a mudslinging politician by nature, but he doesn't need to be. The collected quotes of Rev. Wright will be a bestseller this summer. Obama once had to prove to us that he was not a Muslim; now he must convince us that he never really went to church much. Just as Sen. John F. Kerry was buffeted by veterans who had less than heroic memories of their service with him in Vietnam, so Obama will have to weather the recollections of his fellow parishioners. Count on several to surface and claim that they sat next to him during some particularly incendiary sermon.

The American public will not ultimately doubt Obama's patriotism; that is a bridge too far. But we will come to think less of his credibility and strength as he fumbles his way through awkward denials. Obama's ex-pastor may have faded in the primary fight with Clinton, but Wright will loom larger in the general election. McCain is in an excellent position to exploit the openings that Obama will offer -- if, and only if, he moves to the center.

oped@dickmorris.com

Dick Morris is a political analyst for Fox News Channel and a columnist for the Hill. He was an adviser to President Bill Clinton's 1996 reelection campaign.


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