McCain Strategists See Positive Outlook for Him Against Obama

National security will be a top issue for McCain's campaign.

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Republican strategists are increasingly heartened by the possibilities for victory by GOP presidential candidate John McCain this fall. They note that McCain is staying close to Democrat Barack Obama in the latest national polls even though the issue climate is horrible for Republicans. President Bush's job-approval rating is at historic lows and the voters are deeply concerned about the economy. This week's Washington Post/ABC News Poll, for example, shows Obama ahead by only 49-45 percent among registered voters. It's the national security issue that is expected to be McCain's overwhelming asset, GOP pros say. The Arizona senator's bona fides on national security are unassailable, partly because of his service in the Navy, his proven courage as a POW in Vietnam, and his years of specializing in national-security issues. Just as important, the public still has serious doubts about Obama's inexperience and, specifically, his ability to serve as commander in chief. "It's early, but people have to get over the threshold question of whether Obama can be president and commander in chief for him to win," says a prominent McCain backer. One of McCain's potential vulnerabilities, the pros say, remains his age. If elected, he would be the oldest person ever sworn in for the first time, at 72, and that fact bothers many voters. Still, things could be a lot worse for McCain. "Its wide open," says the McCain insider. "McCain is up against monumental headwinds but it's not a lock for Obama by any means."

Obama recognizes his vulnerability on national security, his aides say, and that's why the Democratic presidential candidate has been so quick to respond to McCain's charges that he is too inexperienced to be commander in chief. Today's schedule is a case in point. As McCain continues to hammer at Obama, the Democratic contender has scheduled a meeting with a newly formed "senior working group on national security" in Washington, which is to give him advice throughout the campaign. The group includes luminaries from past Democratic administrations, including former secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher, former National Security Adviser (and current Obama counselor) Tony Lake, former Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, and ex-Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana. In a further effort to shore up his credibility, Obama is also scheduled to meet today with nearly 40 retired generals and admirals to "discuss the state of our armed forces, and the challenges facing our military in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world," a campaign spokesman said.