/ 11 May 2008

Republicans train sights on Obama

As the Democratic primary contest heads to its climax, the Republicans are firing the opening shots of an election barrage to come against their probable White House opponent, Barack Obama.

Republican John McCain and his colleagues already see Hillary Clinton’s campaign as mortally wounded, and are busy shaping their anti-Obama offensive in terms of national security, taxes and experience.

Mitt Romney, who was beaten by McCain in the Republican nominating race, said that for all his soaring oratory, Obama could not be trusted with the world’s most powerful job.

”He has not accomplished anything during his life, in terms of legislation or leading an enterprise or making a business work or a city work or a state work,” the former Massachusetts governor told CNN.

”He really has very little experience and the presidency of the United States is not an internship,” Romney said.

The Republican Party of President George Bush is portraying McCain as a grizzled veteran in contrast to Obama, the 46-year-old freshman senator from Illinois.

While each pledges a respectful campaign should they wrap up their parties’ nominations, the two senators are already at each other’s throats.

McCain last week said that Hamas, through a spokesperson for the militant Palestinian movement, had declared its support for an Obama presidency. ”I guarantee they’re not going to endorse me,” he said.

Obama shot back at the Republican’s ”smear”, which he called ”offensive”, as the two waged a war of words over Iraq and which candidate was the best bet to prosecute the ”war on terror” and protect Israel.

The Republican’s campaign took furious objection to Obama’s statement that with his Hamas remarks, McCain was ”losing his bearings”.

That, according to aides for the Arizona senator, was a coded dig at McCain’s age. At 72 next January, the Vietnam War hero would be the oldest president ever sworn into a first term.

Bad tempered

If the tone at the top is bad tempered now, that is nothing compared to what is likely to come from independent right-wing groups in terms of anti-Obama advertising.

One such group, called ”Swift Boat Veterans for Truth”, mobilised to devastating effect against 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry, by maligning his Vietnam War record.

This year, ads compiled by fringe outfits are already doing the internet rounds, accusing Obama of being soft on black gang members and evoking his ties to his fiery former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

Conservative commentator Robert Novak says Obama will also be tarred over his links in Chicago with an unrepentant ex-member of Weather Underground, a far-left group that carried out several bombings in the late 1960s.

”While McCain will not demand a response from Obama, others will. How the prospective nominee handles this will help define whether he is seen as flawed or fantastic in the long campaign ahead,” Novak wrote in the Washington Post.

Within Republican ranks, House of Representatives minority leader John Boehner portrays Obama as an old-fashioned tax-and-spend liberal, a throwback to the 1970s presidency of Jimmy Carter.

”Americans aren’t interested in reliving the gas lines and the ‘malaise’ of the late 1970s. They’re looking for real solutions to combat wasteful spending, provide tax relief, and strengthen our national security,” Boehner said.

Expect, also, attacks on Obama’s patriotism, his supposed ”elitism” and not-so-subtle digs at his race from right-wing groups in the months ahead. In sum, what Obama strategist David Plouffe calls the ”gutter politics” of the Republican playbook.

Obama has disowned Wright, denounced the terror campaign of Weather Underground, and says that his not wearing a flag lapel pin does not make him any less patriotic.

And as he looks to eliminate the woman once considered the ”inevitable” Democratic nominee, the Illinois senator says he is ready for all the Republicans might throw his way.

Obama has bullets of his own to fire back, highlighting two of the Democrats’ dominant themes for the November election: the Iraq war and the faltering US economy.

”Senator McCain is running for president to double down on George Bush’s failed policies,” he said Friday in Oregon.

”I am running to change them, and that will be the fundamental difference in this election when I am the Democratic nominee for president.” — AFP