Obama back in Chicago, McCain steps up criticism

July 27, 2008 (CHICAGO) He spoke before the Unity convention, a gathering of several minority journalist organizations. Presumptive Republican nominee John McCain turned down a similar invitation to attend.

With Obama's foreign trip complete, the Illinois senator will now turn to domestic issues. Obama says he will meet with a group of his economic advisers Monday in Washington. But Sunday, the discussion centered around affirmative action, the war in Iraq, and how his views differ from Senator McCain's.

John McCain has continued to hammer Obama about his Iraq war policy, and Obama again defended his position and knowledge of foreign affairs. Senator Obama responded to McCain supporting a ballot initiative in Arizona that would bring an end to affirmative action in that state and said he hoped a meeting with his key economic advisor will yield a plan to combat high energy prices.

The Unity convention was Barack Obama's first public appearance since returning from a world stage. The presidential candidate wasted no time shifting from foreign policy to economic conditions in the United States.

"We're going to have to do more. I think the economy has worsened enough that we need a second round of stimulus," Obama said.

The Democratic presidential hopeful's comments came after his nine-day overseas immersion into international affairs and with just 100 days remaining in the race for the White House.

"Smart is back. He is so intelligent. It's obvious he has processed his trip to the Mid East and all the political things he has to consider," said Kristine Burrello, a convention attendee.

Once again, Obama said Afghanistan's weak government will continue to struggle without an influx of U.S. troops from Iraq. He also again responded to his Republican counterpart's calls for America to remain there.

"I strongly believe going into Iraq was a disaster strategically. It distracted us from finishing the job in Afghanistan. I have acknowledged repeatedly, in every one of these interviews, that the fact that we put more troops in there helped quell the violence, " Obama said.

On ABC's 'This Week,' McCain continued to downplay Obama's Middle East and European tour and criticized his plan for withdrawal from the region.

"I believe when he said we had to leave Iraq, and we had to be out by last March, and we had to have a date certain, that was in contravention, and still is, to the chairman of the joint chefs of staff, Gen. David Petraeus," McCain said.

But the Illinois senator had some criticism of his own for McCain and his stance on affirmative action, after the McCain endorsed an initiative in his home state of Arizona that would end preferences based on race and gender.

"I am disappointed that McCain flipped and changed his position," said Obama.

"I don't believe in quotas," McCain said.

The McCain campaign says the senator did not attend the Unity conference because of a scheduling conflict. His schedule indicates that he was scheduled to spend this weekend at home.

"I think it says he's a chicken. He didn't have the courage to face us," said Jean Stapleton, who also attended the convention.

ABC7 spoke to some of the journalists who will attend Obama's speech. They told us what they wanted to hear from Senator Obama Sunday.

"It's just a learning opportunity. I would have liked to have seen John McCain as well. Unfortunately he's not here. At any case, there is an opportunity to hear and listen. I'm on the opinion news side of the business. We want to see what their agenda is, what he learned from Europe, and explore his issues. Certainly he has moved to the center quite a bit," said David Plazas.

"I'm hoping to hear about his visits overseas. After the reception that he got in Germany. I'm interested in hearing his take on that," said Banessh Shelton.

One month before the Democratic National Convention opens, Obama declined to say whether he has personally interviewed any potential vice presidential running mates. "I'm not going to discuss it," he said aboard his plane.

On NBC, he expanded in only the most general terms, saying, "I want somebody who I'm compatible with, who I can work with, who has a shared vision, who certainly complements me in the sense that they provide a knowledge base or an area of, of expertise that can be useful...."

Obama said later Sunday that he was disappointed that McCain has endorsed a ballot initiative in Arizona that would ban preferences based on race and gender in that state.

In the AP interview, Obama sidestepped when asked whether a peace accord is possible in the Middle East before another election is held in Israel, where Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is weakened by a corruption investigation.

"It's hard for me to gauge Israeli politics right now," he said, although he added Olmert had moved forward "in a serious way" with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas since a meeting sponsored by the Bush administration in Annapolis, Maryland.

While in the Middle East last week, Obama met with both men and said both sides struggle with internal political problems, referring to a Fatah-Hamas split among Palestinians and Olmert's situation. "One of the difficulties that we have right now is that in order to make those compromises you have to have strong support from your people. And the Israeli government right now is unsettled," he said at a news conference in Jordan.

Whatever the short-term impact of his trip, Obama told a group of minority journalists at a Unity conference the longer-term impact will be positive.

"In terms of me governing, being an effective president, that that trip was helpful, because I think I've established relationships and a certain bond of trust with key leaders around the world who have taken measure of my positions and how I operate and I think can come away with some confidence that this is somebody I can deal with," he said.

While Obama was overseas, his campaign announced additional staff in key states as the fall campaign approaches.

"So far at least we've been successful in places that nobody guessed would be successful," he said in the AP interview.

"We have a big map that we're playing with. That's no accident. We said at the beginning of this campaign that one of the changes we'd like to make in our politics was breaking out of this red-blue state divide and going to places that maybe no one has gone to for awhile and trying to make the case for change," he added.

Obama holds a narrow lead over McCain nationally in many national polls, but the presidency is won in a series of state-by-state races.

Of the states that Obama mentioned, Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada, Montana and North Dakota all gave their electoral votes, a total of 63, to President Bush both times he ran.

New Mexico, with five electoral votes, voted for Bush in 2004 after supporting Democrat Al Gore in 2000.

A total of 270 electoral votes is needed to win the White House.

Overall, Obama expressed satisfaction with the state of his campaign, citing a trip to five countries in as many days with numerous meetings and public events as evidence of its ability to "manage projects of importance with a lot of effectiveness."

He said a desire for change, coupled with his own presence on the ballot, should lead to a high-turnout election.

Obama also noted that attacks by Republicans and their allies in congressional elections in Louisiana and Mississippi in recent months had failed to sway the outcome.

"Obviously those sort of attacks by association are going to be especially ineffective when directed at congressional candidates who don't know me very well," he said. Democrats won both races, in part because of heavy black turnout, picking up seats that had long been in Republican hands.

Asked if be thought those two races mean that Republicans must find a new strategy to defeat him, he said, as he has numerous times, that he expects Republicans to target him this fall "full bore with their usual assortment of negative attacks...I don't think anybody's got any illusion about that," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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