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Republicans Focus on Obama as Key Election Issue


The Republican National Convention featured no shortage of attacks on Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, and signaled the Republican strategy in the coming general election campaign. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone reports from the convention site in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Three people were in the spotlight during this week's Republican convention - the party's presidential nominee John McCain, his vice presidential running mate, Sarah Palin, and McCain's Democratic opponent, Barack Obama.

Former Texas congressman and Republican House leader Tom DeLay says there was a reason for all the convention attacks on Barack Obama.

"McCain has to define Obama for what he is, a radical socialist," he said. "But if he can do that, then I think he has a shot to win."

Republican convention speakers criticized Obama, 47, a first-term Senator, for what they believe is a lack of experience compared to McCain, who has served in Congress since 1982. Speakers also painted Obama as one of the most liberal Democrats in the Senate.

Republicans are also hoping that conservative radio talk show hosts like Mike Gallagher will drum up opposition to Obama on the airwaves.

"And I truly believe that our country is in big, big trouble if this guy gets elected president of the United States," he said. "I think Republicans have to make it about Barack Obama, while trumpeting the accomplishments and the achievements and the conservatism of John McCain."

Many of the delegates at this week's Republican convention jeered at the mention of Obama's name during the various speeches.

Some of the delegates, though, were more moderate in tone in assessing their differences with the Illinois senator.

Gale Sayers is a Republican delegate from Texas.

"Of course, I like him personally," she noted. "But we, as Republicans and conservatives, we know that the differences are very, very clear. There is no question mark about it."

To be sure, there were a few Democrats at the Republican convention to counter the anti-Obama rhetoric.

One of the few who did make an appearance at the convention hall was the Democratic Mayor of the nearby city of Minneapolis, R. T. Rybak.

Rybak says he was one of the first big city mayors in the country to endorse Obama.

"I am more than comfortable having Barack Obama as the issue, because Barack Obama has inspired this country," he explained. "The Republicans, all they can do is attacks, they cannot inspire anybody anymore. They have run out of ideas, they have run the country into the ground. It is time to step aside. So, if they want to go do all the negative stuff that is fine. We have got a phenomenal candidate in Barack Obama and he is going to be the next president."

Political analysts who attended the Republican convention say there is some logic behind the Republican strategy to make Obama the main issue in the campaign.

Norman Ornstein is an expert with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

"This is an election where people want change, and they identify Democrats as the party of change," he noted. "But Barack Obama in 2008, just like Ronald Reagan in 1980, has to get over the bar of acceptability where people feel comfortable with him as a president."

Ornstein and other analysts give Obama a slight edge in the presidential race, largely because voters seem most concerned with economic issues this year.

Washington-based expert Stuart Rothenberg says the next crucial stage in the presidential campaign comes when the candidates take part in nationally televised debates.

"Right now, the presidential race looks extremely close," he explained. "It looks like it is going to come down to six or seven states, no matter what the popular vote is. It looks like this election is going to come down to Ohio and Colorado and Virginia and Michigan and a few other states. And so a stumble at a crucial time when the entire world is watching can be huge."

Three presidential debates and one between the vice presidential contenders will be held between late September and mid-October.

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