Obama takes on national security in Va. swing

October 22, 2008 9:01:12 AM PDT
Democrat Barack Obama convened a panel of foreign policy and military luminaries Wednesday to discuss "urgent issues" facing the country from abroad, an attempt to inoculate himself against the renewed charge that he is too untested for the White House. Republican John McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin have seized on comments from Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden that Obama would face a "generated crisis" within six months of becoming president because adversaries across the world would want to test his mettle.

McCain has said the statement from Obama's own running mate illustrates the danger of electing Obama. Biden, however, reached a different conclusion: He said Obama would fare well in such tests because he's "got steel in his spine."

Also, Obama was given a huge boost on the foreign policy front over the weekend when longtime Republican Colin Powell, former secretary of state under President Bush, endorsed him. Powell's backing helps Obama undercut McCain's perceived dominance on foreign policy issues.

Still, the Obama campaign showed enough nervousness about the power of the topic to alter the race that it scheduled the meeting at a grand, historic Richmond hotel, and made sure Biden himself participated by phone from Colorado. Sitting around the room with Obama were a slew of retired generals and foreign policy mavens from Capitol Hill and the diplomatic world. Most have functioned, either formally or informally, as advisers to campaign.

Obama said that he didn't want the financial crisis in America, even though it has gone global, to overshadow the many serious foreign policy problems that continue unchecked, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the need to battle terrorism and the rising influence of China.

"The world has apparently not decided to take a pause while we campaign," Obama said as the group sat down to meet for about an hour. "We didn't want to lose sight of the fact that we still have some urgent issues that need to be dealt with."

With less than two weeks to Election Day, both sides are nervous about what surprises could spring up to affect the race. Most polls show Obama doing well in battleground states and with varying sizes of leads nationally. Both the campaigns are well aware that the frantic final days of a presidential race are vulnerable to the introduction of game-changers.

Obama is spending all week bouncing from one patch of Republican turf to another, arriving in Virginia Tuesday night after spending two days in Florida. Both states voted for Bush in 2004, as did Indiana, where Obama goes Thursday, and Nevada, where he campaigns on Saturday.

In recent days, the tattered economy and the public's perception that Democratic candidates are the better choice to handle it have boosted Obama's campaign. He has focused almost exclusively on the issue, criticizing McCain for offering little more than "willful ignorance, wishful thinking, outdated ideology" to an economy in crisis.

He planned to continue that in other events Wednesday, rallies in Richmond and in Leesburg, Va.


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