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  • Uebelhor

Pick for president offers stark choices


October 08, 2008
One candidate quickly captured the imagination of his party, while the other was left for dead along the political roadside. However, in politics, like with the weather, things can change quickly.

Barack Obama, the first-term junior senator from Illinois, took the pre-Democratic primary season by storm a year ago and hasn't looked back. On the other hand, Republican nominee John McCain, having served in the Senate since 1987 following four years in the House, did anything but with the GOP.

His campaign was out of money, some said he was fifth in a four-person race, and he could be seen carrying his bags through the airport, a rarity for presidential candidates.

Yet, here we are, less than four weeks from a General Election match-up that features Obama and McCain. According to www.realclearpolitics.com, which averages recent polling data, McCain, after taking a slight lead after the GOP Convention, now trails Obama, with the focus of the campaign shifting to the economic bailout package. The Illinois senator has regained momentum and is up by about six points.

Obama, 47, first ran for political office in 1996, grabbing a State Senate seat in Illinois' 13th District that represents part of Chicago. After winning re-election in 1998, the up-and-coming politician challenged four-term U.S. Congressman Bobby Rush in the Democratic primary but lost by a two-to-one margin. However, he continued serving in the State Senate and was re-elected in 2002, before setting his sights on the U.S. Senate two years later.

Running on a record that included sponsoring bipartisan legislation in the Illinois State Senate to reform ethics and health care laws, as well as passage of a bill to monitor racial profiling by mandating that law enforcement officers record the race of drivers they detained, he easily won the Democratic primary and then was aided when his Republican challenger withdrew following embarrassing details uncovered after a judge ordered his divorce records be released. The Illinois GOP then ran Alan Keyes against Obama, but he was no match, as Obama won the seat, earning 70 percent of the vote.

In his short tenure in the Senate, Obama voted in favor of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, cosponsored the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, took up the mantle of the bipartisan Nunn-Lugar legislation to reduce nuclear weapons, and worked with Republican Sen. Tom Coburn on the Coburn-Obama Transparency Act that authorized the establishment of USAspending.gov, a Web search engine on federal spending.

However, Obama hasn't been without criticism. He was ranked by the "National Journal" as the most liberal member of the Senate in 2007, and questions still linger about his association with William Ayers, a domestic terrorist in the 1960s and 1970s in whose home Obama's political career was launched in 1995, and more recently the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who made several questionable comments from the pulpit of the church that Obama attended for 20 years, and former fundraiser Tony Rezko, who was recently sent to prison.

McCain's early history is well-known by many. Coming from a Naval family, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1958 and later served in Vietnam, where the plane he was flying was shot down over Hanoi on Oct. 26, 1967. Fracturing both arms and a leg and nearly drowning as he parachuted into a lake, McCain then had his shoulder crushed with a rifle butt and was bayoneted. He spent 5-1/2 years as a prisoner of war in the "Hanoi Hilton."

McCain was offered early release in 1968, when his father was named commander of all U.S. forces in Vietnam, but McCain refused, instead honoring the military's Code of Conduct that states "first in, first out." Unhappy with his decision, the North Vietnamese, who had wanted to score propaganda points, took out their fury on McCain with severe beatings and two years of solitary confinement.

Released on March 14, 1973, McCain retired from the Navy in 1981 and successfully ran for U.S. Congress in Arizona in 1982, serving two terms before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986.

Until this campaign cycle, McCain had remained a popular senator among members of the Democratic party in part because of his willingness to buck his own party, earning him his famous maverick nickname. Examples of him reaching across the aisle, much to the chagrin of his own Republican party, include working with the Clinton administration in 1998 to raise cigarette taxes to fund anti-smoking efforts, the McCain-Feingold Act, which enacted campaign finance reform, being a part of the "Gang of 14," a group of senators who agreed to preserve the Senate's ability to filibuster judicial nominees in extreme circumstances, and, perhaps most famously, his work with Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy on the unsuccessful Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006.

However, like Obama, McCain's career isn't without question. In 1989, he and four other senators made up the Keating Five. The group was accused of aiding Charles H. Keating Jr., chair of the failed Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, the focus of an investigation by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board.

The Senate Ethics Committee in 1991 determined that Senators Alan Cranston, Dennis DeConcini and Donald Riegle had interfered with the FHLBB in its investigation of Lincoln, but cleared Senators John Glenn and McCain of acting improperly. However, both were said to have exercised poor judgment.

This is McCain's second time to run for president, having lost the 2000 GOP primary to George W. Bush.

Obama has chosen 35-year Delaware Sen. Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate, while McCain has selected first-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his.

Recent polling shows that Indiana is in play. If it goes for Obama, it would be the first time in 44 years that it hasn't cast its electoral votes for the Republican.

The presidential candidates have debated twice, with the most recent being last night (Tuesday), while the vice presidential candidates debated last Thursday. Obama and McCain will have one more debate, at Hofstra University in New York on Oct. 15.

For more information about Obama's campaign, visit www.barackobama.com. For more information about McCain's campaign, visit www.johnmccain.com.

Although history — and polling — suggests that one of the two major party candidates will win the presidency, Obama and McCain aren't alone on the Indiana ballot. Others running for president include Bob Barr (Libertarian Party) and several write-in candidates.

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