Barack Obama and John McCain were on Monday starting the first full week of a five-month election campaign, intent on redrafting the US political landscape to capture the White House in November.
After Hillary Clinton’s exit from the primary race and fulsome endorsement of Obama on Saturday, supporters of the
Democrat and his Republican rival hammered two of the defining themes for the presidential election: the economy and Iraq.
"The fact is that John McCain voted 95 per cent of the time with (President) George Bush last year, and 90 per cent of the time with George Bush over the entire presidency," said John Kerry, the Democrats’ defeated nominee in 2004.
"That’s not a change. That’s not reform. That’s not a difference," the Massachusetts senator told ABC News.
McCain backers cast Obama as a tax-and-spend liberal whose first instinct was to thrust big government into every
corner of US society. And his inspirational oratory had no substantive underpinnings, they said.
"When it comes to Senator Obama, it’s all talk," South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said.
"(He) never did anything the left didn’t want to hear, whether Iraq policy or anything else, and John has been his own man for a long time," he said, touting the Arizona senator’s maverick appeal to independent voters.
But Obama, 46, is not ceding the centrist electorate that could well decide who succeeds Bush next January.
The Illinois senator’s coming itinerary was taking him far from Democratic strongholds, giving an insight into his strategy for making history as the nation’s first black president.
On Monday Obama was launching a two-week, nationwide economic tour starting in North Carolina, which has not voted for a Democratic presidential hopeful since 1976.
The tour was to take Obama to Missouri on Tuesday, which has not chosen a Democrat since voting for former president Bill Clinton in 1996, having already visited Virginia last week (previous Democratic victory: 1964).
Both candidates were rolling out biographical TV spots to re-introduce themselves to voters after the gruelling primary season.
Obama’s story is of a mixed-race trailblazer who, he says, personifies hope and the American dream. McCain, 71, is the grizzled veteran and war hero who survived five years of torture during captivity in Vietnam.
The former first lady was not entirely out of the picture yet, with Hillary’s surrogates flagging up her 18 million primary votes to press her qualification to be vice-president in an Obama administration.
"I’ve looked at every other possible candidate. No one brings to a ticket what Hillary brings," said California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who hosted a fence-mending meeting between the two Democrats late on Thursday.
Hillary’s campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson reaffirmed that Hillary was not agitating for the post.