Voters give Obama's trip mixed reviews

Ohio sales manager Lucas Seltzer isn’t thrilled that Barack Obama is overseas talking to foreigners instead of at home speaking to Americans, but he understands the politics behind the Democratic presidential candidate’s high-profile international trip.

“I would rather see Obama running around this country talking about his issues than in Iraq talking to prime ministers about foreign policy,” said Seltzer (33).

“But he’s probably doing that to show he has foreign policy exposure since he’s been criticised for not having any. And it’s just a week, so I don’t have a big problem with it.”

With newspapers awash with photos of Obama addressing 200 000 cheering Germans in Berlin and wall-to-wall media coverage of his stops in Iraq and Afghanistan, US voters offered a mix of support, anger, scepticism and shrugs.

Seltzer said he had not decided who he would vote for in November’s presidential election, but he is leaning toward Republican John McCain.

Seltzer’s girlfriend, Kristin Altieri (26) favours Obama, a first-term Illinois senator and said she was glad he was overseas trying to repair relations damaged by eight years of failed diplomacy under Republican President George Bush.

“It’s important to mend those broken ties,” said Altieri, a student.

Other voters were scathing. “My first reaction when I heard about it ...
yesterday was ‘How dare you?’” said Marcus Laubli, a Swiss-American who works in a coffee shop in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“Obama tried to make it a Kennedy moment for himself and it was sacrilege for his party ... [trying] to recreate the situation but in a very calculating and naive way,” said Laubli, a Republican.

Obama spoke not far from Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, where in 1963, US president John F Kennedy told a cheering crowd, “Ich bin ein Berliner” [I am a Berliner].

Public opinion polls show Obama’s relative lack of experience in world affairs remains one of his biggest hurdles with voters in his battle with McCain, a four-term Arizona senator and former Vietnam prisoner of war.

Obama supporter Micah Cox (32) said the first part of Obama’s trip—to Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel—was valuable because it showed the 46-year-old senator could be an international leader, while the European leg has been more politically staged.

Cox, who lives about an hour outside of Chicago in Indiana, shrugged off Republican criticism of Obama’s trip.

“They almost forced Obama to go over there and when he went they say he shouldn’t be there,” she said.

Cincinnati waitress Marty Garcia (46) agreed. “McCain is the one who said he [Obama] doesn’t know what he’s doing overseas, so criticising him now is just sour grapes,” said Garcia, an Obama supporter.

McCain (71) has marketed his military and foreign policy credentials in the campaign and goaded Obama into the trip by criticising his failure to visit Iraq since he made a trip there in January 2006.

Garcia said she knew Obama’s short trip would not fundamentally change world affairs, but it was a start.

“We need friends in the world and if we have a figurehead who makes leaders and people in other countries believe America is willing to listen and not take unilateral decisions, that’s a good thing,” she said.

Others also gave Obama high marks for his seven-nation trip.

“I think it’s wonderful that people can get so excited about bringing America and Europe together. And I am for all that Obama has done in this respect. It’s a good idea for us to get closer and I’m glad someone has said that,” said Ed Morris, who writes about country music in Nashville, Tennessee.

While Obama was in Berlin, McCain was at a German restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, talking with business leaders about economic issues, including soaring food and fuel costs.

Ohio is a politically divided state that narrowly supported Bush in 2004 and is considered up for grabs this year.

McCain’s aides have fumed at the heavy media attention focused on Obama and have struggled to compete.

Altieri, the student, proved their point. “I know McCain has been in Ohio, but I don’t know what he’s doing,” she said. - Reuters

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