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Obama, McCain Clash Over Foreign Policy, Taxes

In the U.S. presidential race Wednesday, Democrat Barack Obama focused on a new direction in foreign policy, while his Republican opponent, John McCain, looked to make a comeback in the polls. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports on the presidential campaign from Washington.

Senator Obama convened a meeting of his foreign policy and national security advisers in Virginia.

Afterward, Obama told a news conference that he is up to the challenge of leading the United States at a time of economic crisis at home and foreign policy challenges abroad.

"We cannot afford four more years of policies that have failed to adjust to a new century," Obama said. "We are not going to defeat terrorist networks that operate in 80 countries through an occupation of Iraq. We are not going to deny the nuclear ambitions of Iran by refusing to pursue direct diplomacy alongside our allies."

Obama repeated his pledge to bring a responsible end to the war in Iraq and shift more U.S. troops into Afghanistan, where he said the situation in grave.

Obama was also asked about the recent comments of his vice presidential running mate, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware.

Biden predicted that Obama would face what he called a "generated crisis" if he became president, a comment Republican John McCain seized on to question Obama's readiness to be commander in chief.

"Whoever is the next president is going to have to deal with a whole host of challenges internationally," Obama said. "And a period of transition in a new administration is always one in which we have to be vigilant, we have to be careful, we have to be mindful that as we pass the baton in this democracy that others do not take advantage of it."

Obama also rejected complaints from Republicans that the Obama tax plan is a form of socialism. Obama said it was not a plausible argument because no one accused McCain of being a socialist in 2000 when McCain initially opposed President Bush's tax cuts for wealthy Americans.

McCain was busy trying to spark yet another political comeback in one of his favorite states - New Hampshire.

McCain's victory in this year's New Hampshire primary in January put him on course to win the Republican Party's presidential nomination. He also won the New Hampshire primary against then Texas Governor George Bush in 2000.

"It does not matter what the pundits think or how confident my opponent is," McCain said. "The people of New Hampshire make their own decisions. And more than once, they have ignored the polls and the pundits and brought me across the finish line first. I cannot think of any place I would rather be as Election Day draws close than running an underdog campaign in the state of New Hampshire!"

But public opinion polls suggest that McCain will have to climb out of a deep hole. Several recent national surveys give Obama a double-digit lead over McCain, and McCain trails in several key swing states - states that are competitive for both campaigns - that could be decisive in the electoral vote count on November 4.

In New Hampshire, McCain continued to criticize Obama's tax plan as an obstacle to economic growth and he questioned Obama's readiness to be president.

"We face many enemies in this dangerous world and many challenges here at home. The next president will not have time to get used to the office," McCain said. "He cannot invite testing from the world. He will have to act immediately."

With less than two weeks to go in the campaign, political experts caution that there still could be some sort of "October Surprise" - an unanticipated outside event that could shake up the race to McCain's benefit.

But longtime political observer Tom DeFrank of the New York Daily News says the pivotal event in this year's campaign likely already happened.

"I think if Obama is the next president, we are all going to be writing that the 'October Surprise,' the Hurricane Katrina, if you will, was the economy because that is what, at least as of today, has crippled McCain's candidacy," DeFrank said.

The McCain campaign finds itself on the defensive trying to hold states like Missouri, Indiana and North Carolina that traditionally support Republican presidential candidates.

Obama has made inroads in several swing states that could vote for either candidate, including Colorado and New Mexico, and he is focused on winning larger competitive states like Ohio and Florida that often determine the outcome of presidential elections.