Change is coming, that much Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama agree on as they plunge into a five-month campaign for the White House, according to AP.
The primaries behind them, the presidential rivals were wasting no time drawing the battle line for a fall fight that will make history with the election of either the oldest first-term president in McCain or the first black leader in Obama. In speeches marking the start of the general election, both maneuvered for the advantage with voters sour on the status quo.
McCain, a four-term Arizona senator seeking to succeed a fellow Republican, uttered the word "change" more than 30 times as he tried to distance himself from President Bush and blister his Democratic rival. Obama uttered the phrase 19 times in a speech that claimed the Democratic presidential nomination.
"The wrong change looks not to the future but to the past for solutions that have failed us before and will surely fail us again," McCain, 71, said in suburban New Orleans. "I have a few years on my opponent, so I am surprised that a young man has bought into so many failed ideas."
In St. Paul, Minn., Obama, 46 and a first-term Illinois senator, ceded no ground on the reformer mantle and cast McCain as a continuation of the unpopular Bush`s eight-year tenure.
"My differences with him are not personal; they are with the policies he has proposed in this campaign. Because while John McCain can legitimately tout moments of independence from his party in the past, such independence has not been the hallmark of his presidential campaign," Obama said.
The campaign is the first in half a century in which neither a sitting president nor a vice president is running for the highest office, and the first since 1960 in which a senator will assume the White House. A fragile economy and an ongoing Iraq war, as well as matters of age and race serve as a backdrop.
Both McCain and Obama were full of praise for defeated Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton as the two sought to make a play for her loyalist backers — women and working-class voters.
Clinton, the New York senator and former first lady, stopped short of dropping out of the race even though Obama had reached the requisite delegate count for the Democratic Party`s nomination. Instead of conceding, Clinton said she would spend the next few days determining "how to move forward with the best interests of our country and our party guiding my way."
Behind the scenes, she maneuvered for the vice presidential spot on Obama`s fall ticket, expressing a willingness in a conference call with her state`s congressional delegation. "I am open to it" if it would help the party`s prospects in November, Clinton replied, according to participants who spoke on condition of anonymity because the call was private. Obama`s aides were noncommittal.
In the meantime, the party was swinging behind him.
Officials said Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland was ready to endorse him on Wednesday.
Additionally, party leaders readied a statement urging uncommitted superdelegates in Congress and among the ranks of governors to state their preference by Friday. Several officials said that while they wanted to unify the party quickly, they were also determined not to appear to push Clinton out of the race, particularly since she will be returning to the Senate once her presidential bid is over.
On Wednesday, both Obama and Clinton were addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group.
On the final night of the primary season, Clinton won South Dakota while Obama took Montana — and a slew of party superdelegates who declared their support to help him clinch the party nod. He did it, according to The Associated Press tally, based on primary elections, state Democratic caucuses and support from superdelegates. It took 2,118 delegates to clinch the nomination at the convention in Denver this summer, and Obama had 2,144 by the AP count.
In contrast to the 17-month Democratic primary, Republicans gave McCain the status of likely GOP nominee in March. Since then, McCain has laid the groundwork for the general election campaign by portraying Obama as lacking the experience and judgment needed to be commander in chief.
McCain spoke first and he accused his younger rival of voting "to deny funds to the soldiers who have done a brilliant and brave job" in Iraq. It was a reference to 2007 legislation to pay for the Iraq war, a measure Obama opposed, citing the lack of a timetable for withdrawing troops.
The Republican was taking his message — that he has a record of reform while his opponent simply has rhetoric — directly to the voters in morning appearances on network news programs from Louisiana, where he will campaign later Wednesday.
Obama addressed thousands of cheering backers in the same Minnesota arena where Republicans will hold their nominating convention in early September. He promised an aboveboard debate and seemed to suggest that the GOP simply engages in divisive politics.
Said Obama: "What you don`t deserve is another election that`s governed by fear, and innuendo, and division. What you won`t hear from this campaign or this party is the kind of politics that uses religion as a wedge and patriotism as a bludgeon — that sees our opponents not as competitors to challenge, but enemies to demonize."