Tuesday, September 23, 2008



September 22 2008

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama undergoes three days of preparation this week for a crucial foreign policy clash with John McCain in the first debate of the general election campaign.

Aides say it will be an opportunity for Mr Obama to demonstrate proficiency in an area where polls have shown voters give the edge to McCain, a 26-year Washington veteran who promotes his ties to leaders around the world.

Mr Obama will head to Florida to prepare for Friday’s event at the University of Mississippi.

If Obama can hold his own on foreign policy, it could ease those worries, aides said Sunday as they tried to lower expectations for the first-term Illinois senator, a powerful speaker but an uneven performer in multiple debates during the Democratic primaries.

Instead, senior Obama adviser Robert Gibbs said it is McCain who needs to meet expectations.

“John McCain has boasted throughout the campaign about his decades of Washington foreign policy experience and what an advantage that would be for him,” Mr Gibbs said. “This debate offers him major home-court advantage and anything short of a game-changing event will be a key missed opportunity for him.”

While Obama is cloistered in Tampa, Florida, veteran Washington lawyer Greg Craig will play the role of McCain in the debate preparations.

Mr Craig was a member of President Clinton’s defence team during the impeachment proceedings.

In 2004, he was a stand-in for President Bush when Democratic nominee John Kerry prepared for his debates.

Mr Craig also has advised both Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on foreign policy. The bulk of Obama’s time in Florida will be devoted to the debates, but he’s also likely to hold some campaign events in the area.

Polls show a tight race in Florida. McCain won the state during the GOP primaries but Mr Obama didn’t compete there because of Democratic Party sanctions against Florida because it held its nominating contest too early in the season.

Mr Obama and McCain are scheduled to debate three times between Friday and October 15, sandwiched around one matchup between their running mates, Senator Joe Biden and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Presidential debate

But the opening presidential debate traditionally sets the tone for voters and it’s often difficult for a candidate to overcome a poor performance.

Meanwhile, Mr Obama on Monday called the $700 billion price tag for a financial market bailout “staggering” and said the final product must protect US taxpayers and include a commitment to new regulatory reforms.

At a rally in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, Mr Obama laid the blame for the Wall Street crisis on Republican economic policies favored by Mr McCain.

“We’re now seeing the disastrous consequences of this philosophy all around us – on Wall Street as well as Main Street,” Mr Obama told the crowd estimated at about 20,000.

Negotiations over the unprecedented $700 billion bailout opened on Sunday between Congress and the administration of President George W. Bush.