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McCain vs Obama

It's getting chippy.

As official Washington seeks to slip quietly into the long Memorial Day weekend, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) have gone to war over the war.

McCain started the squabble with a release expressing his "disappointment" with Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) for their votes against the Iraq funding legislation. "This vote may win favor with MoveOn and liberal primary voters but it's the equivalent of waving a white flag to al Quaeda."

(Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney also attacked the frontrunners in a statement -- casting the vote as a sign of "their lack of leadership" and adding that it "serves as a glaring example of an unrealistic and inexperienced worldview on national security.")

Obama swung back at McCain and Romney, painting the duo as decidedly out of touch with the situation on the ground. "Governor Romney and Senator McCain clearly believe the course we are on in Iraq is working, but I do not," Obama said in a statement. And then, he twisted the knife a bit, adding: "And if there ever was a reflection of that it's the fact that Senator McCain required a flack jacket, ten armored Humvees, two Apache attack helicopters and 100 soldiers with rifles by his side to stroll through a market in Baghdad just a few weeks ago."

Not to be outdone, McCain poured a whole can of lighter fluid on the fire. McCain said while Obama's two years in the Senate "certaintly entitle him to vote against funding for our troops" that he had made a different decision based on his "service and experience." Then he threw the haymaker: "By the way, Senator Obama, it's a 'flak' jacket, not a 'flack' jacket."

HEYOOOO!

There are several different storylines at work here.

Both Obama and McCain believe to win their party's respective nominations they must be seen as the leading voice on the war.

Obama has worked to differentiate himself from Clinton on the war by noting that he opposed it from its inception while she did not. A chance to battle with the leading Republican candidates over the war is an opportunity not to be missed for Obama.

By the same token, McCain knows that the base of the Republican Party remains loyal both to President Bush and his policies in Iraq. He also knows that he must overcome skepticism toward him among that same base -- the lingering effect of his challenge to Bush during the 2000 presidential primaries. What better way to show his loyal Republican stripes than to bash Clinton and Obama on the war?

While most voters are paying little to no attention to this skirmish between McCain and Obama, the back and forth does provide a window into the territory on which the 2008 presidential election will be fought. The question for both sides is whether their eventual nominee can (or needs to) moderate their position on the war in order to win the crucial swing voters in places like Ohio and Florida. Is de-funding the troops a position that most swing voters are willing to adopt? What about support for the surge resolution and a continued faith in America's ability to win the war?

Those questions stand at the heart of trying to decode the 2008 election.

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 25, 2007; 3:24 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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