McCain to Focus On Domestic Issues

Sen. John McCain discusses clean automotive technology during a stop at the General Motors technical center in Warren, Mich.
Sen. John McCain discusses clean automotive technology during a stop at the General Motors technical center in Warren, Mich. (By Carolyn Kaster -- Associated Press)
By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 19, 2008

DETROIT, July 18 -- As Sen. Barack Obama takes a highly publicized trip abroad over the next week, Sen. John McCain plans to highlight his commitment to the nation's domestic challenges in stops across the country.

The Republican presidential candidate emphasized his interest in promoting clean automotive technology at the General Motors technical center in Warren, Mich, on Friday, and he plans to focus on economic issues next week in New England and the Midwest.

"John McCain will be talking directly to home-town Americans about gas prices, job growth and the economy," campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said Friday. "Of course, we expect there'll be an implicit contrast between John McCain's record and an Obama campaign trip designed to compensate for a slim foreign policy record and built around his own political ambitions."

After criticizing Obama for visiting Iraq once and not visiting Afghanistan at all before he announced his travel plans, the McCain campaign has since suggested that the Democrat's trip is purely political. On Thursday, Jill Hazelbaker, McCain's communications director, described it as a "first-of-its-kind campaign rally overseas."

The presumptive GOP nominee used softer language to describe the tour, making a distinction between Obama visiting Iraq and Afghanistan and stops in Europe that might have the flavor of a political event.

Like most politicians who visit Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama's campaign has not revealed the details of its itinerary for security reasons. But McCain broke with protocol and suggested Obama's schedule while speaking to donors Friday at a fundraiser at the Detroit Athletic Club.

"I believe that either today or tomorrow, I am not privy to his schedule, Senator Obama will be landing in Iraq with some other senators," he said.

Bounds said that McCain "doesn't know the itinerary of the trip but was speaking in broader terms."

When asked Friday how he hopes to break through the widespread publicity that is sure to accompany Obama during his overseas tour, McCain demurred.

"I'm basing my campaign on our own campaign," he said. "Obviously, our dependence on foreign oil is a critical issue," he added, saying that innovations such as the Volt, the battery-powered car that Chevrolet is hoping to produce, "are vital" in making the United States less dependent on oil.

Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, said that although McCain's strategy makes sense, it is not likely to draw significant attention away from Obama.

"The economy is the top issue -- jobs, economic growth, these are really big issues, and McCain can't go wrong talking about them when Obama is half a world away," he said. "But the visual isn't even close, in terms of excitement and interest when Obama is going to be meeting with all these world leaders."

McCain, Rothenberg added, "doesn't want to be irrelevant; he really wants to get his 2 cents in."

GOP pollster David Winston said the candidates' contrasting schedules highlight that McCain has been able to put Obama on the defensive when it comes to foreign policy. While Obama has a wide lead in polls on the economy and other domestic issues, more voters say that McCain is better prepared to serve as commander in chief.

McCain has repeatedly questioned why his opponent has never visited Afghanistan and has not traveled to Iraq more than once.

Winston said Obama "wouldn't be doing this if what McCain was saying didn't have some resonance. The question for Obama is: Is it too little, too late?"

But Winston added that although McCain may have had some success in setting the recent agenda for the campaign, it has not translated into an electoral advantage, saying: "For the short term, the initiative is with the McCain campaign -- the initiative being different from the lead."

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