A question of who can beat McCain

WITH Senator John McCain the likely Republican flag-bearer at the ballot box, the question of which Democrat makes a stronger rival is taking on greater significance.

Former first lady Hillary Clinton and Illinois Senator Barack Obama have been pushed into stressing their credentials ahead of Super Tuesday, when 24 states hold nominating contests.

In an interview on ABC’s This Week as her lead in national polls narrowed, New York Senator Clinton charged that her rival was not prepared to face Republican attacks and said she had been “taking the incoming fire from Republicans” for some 16 years.

“I’m still here, because I have been vetted, I have been tested,” she said, pointing out that Mr Obama “did not face anyone who ran attack ads against him” when he stood for election as senator for Illinois.

Her husband, former president Bill Clinton, meanwhile, has said that voting for Mr Obama amounts to “a roll of the dice”.

Their comments are designed to raise questions about Mr Obama in voters’ minds: Would he wilt amid the harsh attacks, and perhaps dirty tricks? Can he handle the pressures of the White House?

Mr Obama has rejected any suggestion that he is not tough enough.

“I come from Chicago politics. We’re accustomed to rough and tumble,” he countered on CBS’ Face The Nation. “I don’t expect this to be a cakewalk.”

For many Democrats, the question is not simply which candidate they like most, but who has the best chance of winning in November against Mr McCain, a Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war.

Clearly, Mrs Clinton would be a strong candidate and would run a formidable campaign. But in Mr McCain, the Republicans believe they have a candidate who could beat her. So, Democrats are being forced to take a closer look at Mr Obama.

He will have to convince voters that he is tough enough to handle both the political combat of a general election and the stresses of the presidency.

That is a bigger job for Mr Obama than for most other candidates. At 46, he is younger than the others – and a newcomer to the national scene. But observers believe he may be better placed to challenge Mr McCain.

In a presidential fight with the Republican, Mrs Clinton could draw on the Democratic support base, but may not be able to win over independent voters, who could be unwilling to put their faith in a female president.

Unaffiliated voters could veer towards the younger and more charismatic Mr Obama if he entered the fray. Together with support from the Democratic base and drawing on his popularity with younger voters, he could provide a stiffer challenge for Mr McCain.

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