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McCain prods Obama to visit Iraq

THE NATION / CAMPAIGN '08

May 29, 2008|Maeve Reston and Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writers

RENO — Speaking with evident condescension, Arizona Sen. John McCain needled Barack Obama on Wednesday by offering to travel to Iraq with the Illinois senator to help him gain a better understanding of the war and the consequences of withdrawing troops.

The attack by the presumptive Republican presidential nominee was in line with his campaign's recent attempts to portray Obama as too young and inexperienced to lead the nation.

Speaking before a boisterous crowd of 500 who gathered for a town-hall-style meeting here, McCain accused his Democratic rival of ignoring the successes of the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq and suggested that Obama was ignorant of the facts.

"To say that we failed in Iraq and we're not succeeding does not comport with the facts on the ground, so we've got to show him the facts on the ground," McCain said.

McCain also said Obama's proposal to set a date for troop withdrawal would "lead to chaos, genocide and increased Iranian influence."

At a late-afternoon news conference in Beverly Hills, McCain said he was glad to learn via news accounts that Obama is considering a trip to Iraq this summer -- although not a joint trip with McCain, which the Obama campaign branded "a political stunt."

"It's long overdue; it's been 871 days since he was there," McCain said, referring to a 2006 trip Obama took to Iraq. "And I'm confident that when he goes he will then change his position on the conflict in Iraq."

Obama spokesman Bill Burton fired back that it was "odd that Sen. McCain, who bought the flawed rationale for war so readily, would be lecturing others on their depth of understanding about Iraq."

Burton said Obama challenged President Bush's rationale for the war "from the start."

"Sen. McCain stubbornly insists on pursuing the failed Bush policy that continues to cost so much, while Sen. Obama believes it's time to begin a deliberate, careful strategy to remove our troops and compel the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future."

Obama, in a session with reporters while flying back to Chicago from Colorado, spoke of the coming conclusion of his contest with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York for the Democratic nomination.

He said he believed the winner of the race should be known by the end of the day Tuesday, and that he believes he will be the victor. By Tuesday evening, the three remaining primaries, in Puerto Rico, Montana and South Dakota, will be over. That also will be three days after the Saturday meeting of party officials in Washington to resolve a dispute over how to account for Democratic delegates from Michigan and Florida, two states whose primary results are considered unofficial because the contests were held earlier on the calendar than party rules allowed.

"At that point, all the information will be in," Obama said. He signaled he was counting on the party insiders known as superdelegates to provide the decisive support, saying that "they will make their decisions pretty quickly" after the final primaries.

He also brushed aside the possibility that a lawsuit or a floor challenge by Clinton at the Democratic National Convention in August could block his nomination. "If we've got the number of delegates to secure the nomination, then I'm the nominee," he said.

Earlier in the day, he focused on education policy. He appeared at a school in Thornton, Colo., north of Denver, on the last day of his three-day swing through Western battleground states.

Obama reserved special attention for the federal No Child Left Behind law that, critics say, has placed unfunded federal burdens on public schools.

"Forcing our teachers, our principals, and our schools to accomplish all of this without the resources they need is wrong," Obama said.

Clinton, appearing in Kyle, S.D., made the case that she remained a serious contender for the presidency. "I view my run for president as a solemn obligation," she said, appearing before about 300 people outside of a school.

"I don't run for president because I need any more publicity or because I need the adulation or the celebrity or to live in the White House again," she added. "I run because I believe we can do so much better in our country."

Clinton, after reviewing some of her policy positions, turned to her contest with Obama and described the race as still very tight. "It is so close that neither of us have the number of delegates needed to be president," she said.

Making her familiar argument, Clinton said her primary wins in many of the biggest states showed that she would be the more formidable Democratic candidate in November.

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maeve.reston@latimes.com

scott.martelle@latimes.com

Times staff writer Louise Roug also contributed to this report from South Dakota. Reston reported from Nevada and Los Angeles, and Martelle from Colorado.

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