Presidential candidates aren't focused on war

September 19, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
For both Senators Barack Obama (D) of Illinois, and John McCain (R) of Arizona, the main challenge on the campaign trail now, is tapping into the concerns voters have about the financial crisis. Just a few weeks ago the topic was Iraq, but now they're barely mentioning the war.

What a contrast from the primary season. Both John McCain and Barack Obama won their party's nomination in part, by touting their judgment on Iraq. Now polls are showing voters are less concerned about the war and more concerned about what the next president is going to do about the economy.

Iraq war protests aren't what they used to be here in the Bay Area. Only nine people turned up at San Francisco's event.

Nine others came to a demonstration in Palo Alto.

"During this campaign season, especially with the economic news, we're afraid Iraq is falling off the agenda list," said Paul George, director of Peninsula Peace and Justice Center.

"If we had been having this conversation a year ago, we would have said that Iraq was going to decide this election," said Bill Whalen, from the Hoover Institution.

Whalen says voters aren't being inundated by bad news from Iraq. Replacing the void, is bad news at home. Gas and food prices are high and he believes the meltdown on Wall Street is this election's October surprise.

"We've talked in presidential elections, about October surprises, something unanticipated, and the unthought-of of happening in the weeks before the election. This is the October surprise, but in September," said Whelan.

A recent Zogby poll shows half of likely voters say the economy is the most important issue in deciding their vote for president. It's followed by the threat of another attack on the United States with nine percent, health care at nine percent, and just seven percent say it's the war in Iraq.

Still, many people want the money going to Iraq, to go to programs and services here in the U.S.

"I'm concerned about the implications of that money being spent there instead of on education and health care and community services," says Roberta Ahlquist, from Palo Alto.

The Non-Partisan Congressional Budget Office forecasts a total cost of $1.2 trillion to $1.7 trillion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by 2017. With Iraq accounting for three quarters of the cost.

Compare that to a half-trillion-dollar or more aid package to Wall Street and you have two big issues, but only one that could get votes for the candidates.

"Now it's becoming clear that whoever can do a better job talking about the economy is going to win this election," said Whelan.

Bill Whelan believes both candidates have not done well this week handling the economic news and need to offer up more solutions instead of attacking each other. Expect the economy to be a major topic during the first presidential debate next Friday.


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