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Change vs. Experience Key Themes in US Election Campaign


The U.S. presidential election is more than four months away. But the contest between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain is already shaping up as a clear choice between change and experience. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has a preview of the general election campaign from Washington.

With the primary battles over, Barack Obama is focused now on his Republican opponent, John McCain, and the quest to become the first African-American president.

"There are independents and Republicans who understand that this election isn't just about the party in charge of Washington, it's about the need to change Washington," Obama said.

Senator McCain, if he wins in November, would be the oldest first term president in history, but he hopes to emphasize his extensive experience in the military and in Congress.

"I admire and respect Senator Obama," McCain said, "but he does not have the knowledge, background or judgment to lead this nation in these difficult and challenging times, and I do."

Obama heads into the election campaign with a slight lead in the polls. Voter worries should benefit Obama, says Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution.

"Because of a very unpopular Republican president, a public that believes overwhelmingly that the country is off on the wrong track, deep concerns about the health of the economy and an unpopular war in Iraq," he said.

Polls also show Obama gaining, in some states, with white working-class voters. They preferred Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries.

Quinnipiac University pollster Clay Richards believes, "At this point, an awful lot of those working class voters see Senator Obama as the best candidate to turn the economy around, and that is the most important issue in their mind and overcomes their tendency to vote for the GOP [Republican] candidate in other races."

Senator McCain says he has an uphill climb to the White House.

He adds, "I know I have to out-campaign my opponent in every respect, and so I do not underestimate. I consider myself an underdog."

McCain has a history of appealing to political moderates and that will make him competitive, says Thomas Mann.

Mann says, "Because of his fascinating biography, his reputation for character and independence."

McCain's status as a war hero could appeal to voters concerned about protecting the country from terrorism. That could give him an advantage over Obama.

"Some people have doubts about his qualifications as commander in chief," says Mann. "So, he has a hurdle to clear, a threshold to reach that he is trustworthy on matters pertaining to national security."

The economy, rising fuel prices, health care and Iraq are expected to be the major issues in the campaign. Americans will elect their next president on November 4.