McCain Pounds Obama for Position Flips

A weekly wrap on the state of the '08 presidential race.

June 29, 2008 — -- IN THE PAPERS

Looking to make up ground in national polls, the presidential campaign of Republican Sen. John McCain continues to highlight recent shifts in rival Barack Obama's positions. The goal is to cut into excitement around Obama's candidacy and cast the Democratic senator as an opportunist who cannot be trusted.

McCain and his surrogates cite recent flips on public financing and terror surveillance, as well as careful maneuvering on the D.C. handgun ban -- a far-reaching law that was shot down by the Supreme Court last week -- as proof Obama cannot be trusted.

The Obama campaign counters that it is McCain who has realigned his positions in the wake of the presidential campaign.

McCain is certainly not without reversals. Critics point to a shift in rhetoric on immigration reform, support for offshore oil drilling and the Bush tax cuts. But the McCain campaign sees a real opportunity to bring down Obama's image as a change agent.

"The candidate of change has changed some of his own positions in recent weeks, raising the risk he'll be labeled a flip-flopper on hot-button issues that look as if they will play a central role in the general election," writes Ginger Adams Otis of the New York Post.

Over the weekend, at a Louisville fundraiser, the Arizona senator kept the heat on Obama for position flips. "You know, this election is about trust, and trusting people's word," McCain told donors, according to ABC's Bret Hovell. "And unfortunately, apparently, on several items, Sen. Obama's word cannot be trusted."

The Obama realignment is typical for a candidate at the beginning of a general election contest. Presidential hopefuls know elections are usually won in the center. But McCain and his allies have come down hard on Obama.

McCain supporter, Sen. Sam Browback of Kansas told Jonathan Weisman of the Washington Post, "It does seem to reflect a willingness . . . to change on positions, to be more liberal in the primary, to moving more conservative in the general election." He continued, "I guess I should welcome that, but it looks like, to me, either inexperience or incredible flip-flopping."

Expect this storyline to go on for a while, as the Republican National Committee continues to feed reporters examples of Obama flips.

Upcoming Campaign Events

Obama will travel to the Middle East and Europe next month, his first foreign trip as a White House contender, the Obama campaign announced Saturday. The senator will visit Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and the UK.

ABC News' Jake Tapper has learned that, on a separate congressional trip, Obama will visit troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, though the Obama campaign announcement did not include information about those trips. This will be Obama's second visit to Iraq.

On Sunday, McCain met with Christian evangelist leader Billy Graham and his son in North Carolina. After the meeting, McCain issued a short statement. "Today, I met with Rev. Billy Graham and his son, Franklin. We had a very excellent conversation, and I appreciated the opportunity to visit with them. Billy Graham recalled that, during the Vietnam War when I was a prisoner, he visited my parents twice in Honolulu, and he and my father prayed together for me. And I expressed my appreciation for that a long time ago."

As for Obama, he planned a quiet Sunday with no campaign events.

Maybe hoping to tap into his maverick image, circa the 2000 campaign, McCain plans this week to unveil a new campaign airplane, a Boeing 737, with the "Straight Talk" logo on the fuselage.

While Obama campaigns in the likely swing states of Ohio and Colorado this week, McCain will be in Colombia and Mexico, a schedule that seeks to emphasize his strong foreign policy credential, at a time when Americans are focused on issues at home. "But that strategy has provoked consternation and confusion among some fellow Republicans," writes Mark Z. Barabak of the Los Angeles Times.

"For starters, and most obviously, there are no electoral votes to be had in Latin America or Canada, another country McCain recently visited. Even more puzzling to observers is McCain's emphasis on national security and foreign affairs -- Saturday he met with the leaders of Iraq and the Philippines -- at a time when domestic matters have surged to the fore of voter concerns," Barabak explains.

Candidates Court Hispanics

On Saturday, the candidates "traded verbal barbs on the thorny issue of immigration, just a few minutes apart," when they spoke to a conference of elected and appointed Latino officials in Washington, write ABC's Bret Hovell and Jennifer Duck. Speaking after McCain, Obama accused McCain of walking away from his commitment to immigration reform. "He deserves great credit as a champion of comprehensive [immigration] reform," Obama said. "I know he talked about that when he just spoke before you, but what he didn't mention is that, when he was running for his party's nomination, he walked away from that commitment." Obama said he would make immigration reform a priority of his administration. The McCain campaign shot back at Obama, saying he has not reached out to Republicans in a bipartisan way on an issue of importance to the American people, when his own political interests were at risk.

More McCain and Family

Last week's end of term Supreme Court rulings served as a reminder that the direction of the court hangs in the balance this election year. Robert Barnes of the Washington Post explains that, an Obama victory in November, "would probably mean preserving the uneasy, but roughly balanced, status quo, since the justices who are considered most likely to retire are liberal. A win for his Republican counterpart, (McCain), could mean a fundamental shift to a consistently conservative majority, ready to take on past court rulings on abortion rights, affirmative action and other issues important to the right."

There are signs the defense industry is a little unnerved by the idea of a McCain presidency. Leading Wall Street analysts have cautioned clients that a McCain presidency might dramatically cut spending on defense contracts, reports Bryan Bender of the Boston Globe.

As if another example was needed that the McCain campaign is prone to small mess ups, the Los Angeles Times reports that McCain gave an 18-minute speech on his cell phone to absolutely no one. There was some kind of problem with McCain's cell phone signal when he tried to speak with the major Jewish group, B'nai B'rith International on Friday.

Newsweek is reporting that San Diego County officials are seeking back taxes on an oceanfront condo owned by one of Cindy McCain's trusts.

The Los Angeles Times scored an interview with McCain's 96-year-old mom, Roberta.

More Obama and Family

In an interview Black Enterprise and Ed Gordon posted online, Obama was asked if his wife, Michelle, needed a makeover to avoid Republican attacks. "She doesn't need to be retooled. She's fabulous as she is," said Obama. "The only thing I think that we want to make sure of is that, when she's attacked, she's defended, because the other side hasn't had quorums about trying to mischaracterize her or attack her in ways that I find very offensive."

In Other News

Oh, the YouTube age and elections... The presidential candidates will have to contend not only with the other campaign and shadowy outside groups, but also amateur political hits delivered on the World Wide Web. Some of the strongest attacks have come online by ordinary citizens. Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times writes, "In previous elections, an attack like that would have come from party operatives, campaign researchers or the professional political hit men who orbit around them. But in the 2008 race, the first in which campaigns are feeling the full force of the changes wrought by the Web, the most attention-grabbing attacks are increasingly coming from people outside the political world. In some cases, they are amateurs operating with nothing but passion, a computer and a YouTube account -- in other cases, sophisticated media types with more elaborate resources, but no campaign experience."

Libertarian and former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr is trying to channel his inner Ron Paul. The goal, of course, is to mobilize young Libertarians with the elders of the party, defeat both major parties and win the White House. He certainly faces formidable obstacles -- "(n)o Libertarian candidate has ever won more than 1 percent of the vote in a presidential election," writes New York Times reporter Michael Cooper. Crazy odds aside, some Republicans are uneasy about his candidacy and the possibility it could impact McCain.

Alec MacGillis of the Washington Post offers a fascinating article about emerging political reversals for Democrats and Republicans. MacGillis uses the two Virginias to prove Democrats are strengthening their holds in metropolitan areas, while Republicans continue to make inroads in the Appalachian and Rust Belt.

The Wall Street Journal interviewed McCain advisor Phil Gramm. The former Texas GOP senator explains how McCain measures up to Ronald Reagan.


ABC's "This Week"

Perennial presidential candidate Ralph Nader refused to back away from his strong criticism of Obama, including his charge that Obama, vying to become the nation's first black president, is "acting white" by not challenging white power in the U.S.

"He's backed off on so many things. He voted for the war except once -- funding for the war. He voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act. He's ducked on the FISA thing, for example. He's pandered to AIPAC and the militant part of the Israeli approach to oppressing and colonizing and occupying the Palestinians. He says he's against the Iraq war, but his plan would keep 50,000 to 80,000 troops there and bases."

Nader also charged Obama with taking positions congenial to corporate America, citing health care, the Taft-Hartley law and support for policies that would expand the military budget. Conceding that any candidate would be better than a Republican this year, Nader also went after McCain. "John McCain is basically moving toward becoming a clone of George W. Bush. Used to be seen as a maverick, he's backing away on one issue after another. He was against this tax cut in the early part of the Bush administration, for very good reasons. He's backed away. He stands in front of the corporatists and he does, he says, 'I'm your man,'" he said.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., and Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., continued the McCain/Obama feud over which candidate has been more willing to buck his party. Pawlenty argued Obama has never broken with his party on any issues. He said, "The question really remains, when has Barack Obama stood up and taken on his party on anything of national significance? And on the issue of immigration, when John McCain was leading that issue, taking great risk and taking a pounding from his own party, Barack Obama was not significantly engaged in that debate, and the accounting of the votes, ultimately, where he actually put amendments or tried to support amendments that would derail immigration reform in this country -- another example of John McCain's courageous leadership and Barack Obama not walking the walk."

Emanuel's response: "John McCain flip-flopped on taxes. [He] once said it would lead to huge deficits and that it was income, it would shift way to the wealthy, and then he flipped on that. Second, he referred to the evangelical community as agents of intolerance, and now he's embraced them. Third, he came out for oil drilling, once opposing it, after having received $800,000 from the oil and gas industry." And then the real zinger line from Emanuel: "If flip-flop was an Olympic sport, John McCain would be the first to win a gold medal."

NBC's "Meet the Press"

Days after seeming to criticize prominent members of his own party, like McCain, who back drilling along the U.S. coastlines for oil, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger defended the presumptive GOP nominee on the environment. "I'm very proud of him. I'm 100 percent behind him," said the movie action hero-turned governor. "He was there and he supported me on every step of the way, so he's the real deal when it comes to the environment."

Schwarzenegger said the 19 California Republicans who hold seats in Congress will probably be safe, even in a year when voters want change. "I mean, that all depends, in the end, of what the mood of the state, of the nation, is at the time of the election. I think the key thing is, is for Washington to show that they can work together and get things done. This year, I have to say, I'm very disappointed of what has happened."

"Fox News Sunday"

Barr described the choice between McCain and Obama as a mixed bag, and argued the country needs an alternative. "For example, on some of the civil liberties and privacy issues with which I and the Libertarian Party are very concerned, Sen. Obama clearly is much better. On other issues -- those relating to the cost of government and government spending -- while neither candidate is good, Sen. Obama clearly would favor a more expansive federal spending policy."

Barr dismissed Republican concerns that he might damage McCain's chances this November in places like Georgia. "If Sen. Obama wins on November 4, and Sen. McCain and I lose, it will be because he presented a vision and a platform and a candidacy to the American people that resonated with a plurality of the voters."

CBS's "Face the Nation"

On CBS's "Face the Nation," Independent Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman predicted that Gen. David Petraeus is going to announce this summer that the U.S. can continue to draw down forces in Iraq. He also warned that if the country had followed Obama's call to begin a troop exit from Iraq, terrorists would have gained control of the county. "And frankly, I hope he changes his position. Because if we had done what Sen. Obama asked us to do, for the last couple of years, today, Iran and al Qaeda would be in control of Iraq. It would be a terrible defeat for us and our allies in the Middle East and throughout the world," Lieberman said.

On the same program, retired Gen. Wesley Clark attacked McCain for never having what he described as executive responsibility. "Because, in the matters of national security policy making, it's a matter of understanding risk. It's a matter of gauging your opponents, and it's a matter of being held accountable. John McCain's never done any of that in his official positions. I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. ... He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn't held executive responsibility." It should be noted that, by Clark's standards, Obama has never had executive responsibility, either.

CNN's "Late Edition"

Terry McAuliffe, Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, said Bill Clinton, like many Clintonians, is somewhat angry about the way his wife was treated during the Democratic nomination contest, but that the former president does not have bad feelings about Obama. He said Bubba has been quiet because Obama and Clinton wanted to show unity before the former prez got involved. "They wanted this out of the way first," McAuliffe said, referring to the unity show Friday in Unity, N.H. McAuliffe also said he's working to bring in Clinton fundraisers who don't really want to contribute to Obama.

As always, you can watch a complete recap from the Sunday shows from "This Week's Sunday Sound" Webcast.


Michelle Obama is scheduled to headline a Monday night fundraiser that Rep. Rahm Emanuel is hosting, to benefit two suburban congressional candidates.It looks like Sen. Obama will skip this year's centrist Democratic Leadership Council annual meeting in Chicago. The event ends on Monday. The group had extended an invitation to Obama. Of course, courting the centrist portion of the Democratic Party may not be precisely the image he wants to portray to the liberal grassroots who are already concerned about his recently announced FISA position, and who have no love for the DLC.

It was Canada last week, this time it's South America. McCain visits Colombia this week, sometime before the holiday. He will meet with the president of Colombia to discuss trade and the war against drug cartels.

Warren Buffet headlines a $28,500 per-person fundraiser Wednesday, July 2, at the Chicago home of finance chair billionaire Penny Pritzker. Obama friend Valerie Jarret plays host.

Possible vp contenders, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, speak at the Aspen Institute's "Celebrating High-Level Thinking at High-Altitudes" in the likely key swing state of Colorado on Thursday, July 3. Bill Clinton talks with the group on Saturday, July 5. This is the fourth one of these think-fests, which the organization bills as an "ideas festival," with leaders from the fields of arts, sciences, culture, religion, philosophy, economics and politics.