Politics & Government

Delegates: Hammer Obama's experience

U.S. Senator and former Navy fighter pilot John McCain can reach the White House by hammering U.S. Sen. Barack Obama over his lack of experience, according to the Carolinas' delegates to the Republican National Convention.

The Carolinas are sending 94 delegates, nearly all latecomers to McCain's camp, to St. Paul for what Republicans hope will be the launch of their drive to keep the White House. The convention, scheduled to start Monday, is expected to showcase McCain's war heroism and walk the narrow path of exciting Republicans while telegraphing to the rest of the public that he's no George W. Bush.

In survey responses from nearly half of North Carolina's 70 delegates and a quarter of South Carolina's 24 delegates, all but two said McCain should highlight Obama's “inexperience,” or similar terms, as the primary issue against the Democratic nominee.

“(McCain) is more prepared for the office of president,” said Kim Hendrix, an event planner in Greenville, N.C., “and he can get things done where I don't believe Obama could.”

The delegates' proposed campaign strategy, offered in response to a survey by The Charlotte Observer this month, grew more difficult Friday with McCain's selection of first term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. Democrats immediately began contrasting McCain campaign comments about Obama, a first-term senator, with Palin's less than two years in the governor's office.

Three N.C. delegates suggested Palin as a running mate in their survey responses.

Low numbers among the delegates shouldn't reflect on Palin's prospects. Only one delegate from North Carolina and two from South Carolina backed McCain before the primaries began in January.

While Obama has to mend a bitter divide with supporters of U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, McCain must energize party regulars who are only now warming up to him.

The Carolinas Republicans think McCain:

Should keep pumping energy as a campaign issue.

Shouldn't rush to pull troops out of Iraq.

Will need to hire a team of economic advisers to blunt his admission of limited economic expertise.

The delegates overwhelmingly back offshore oil drilling.

“The one option we have right now is to increase the supply of America's domestic oil,” said Drew Johnson, a communications specialist in Chester, S.C. “By taking steps toward offshore drilling we can impact the oil futures market and begin to lower the price of gas at the pump.”

Iraq presents a trickier topic. McCain advocated for boosting troop strength in Iraq back when such a proposal was unpopular but proved successful. Nearly every delegate said the troops shouldn't leave until Iraq is stabilized.

“Not until the job is finished, until the governing body in Iraq says they don't want us there anymore,” said Dan Mansell, a consultant in Selma, N.C., and an Army veteran. “You don't pull out until the job is finished.”

The delegates were well aware of McCain's now-infamous statement that “the issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should.” No president, though, is an economics expert, a wide majority of the delegates said. McCain blunts that reality by surrounding himself with strong economic advisers, they said.

“Barack Obama doesn't have anything in his background to suggest he understands economics either,” said Lee Teague, who works in commercial real estate in Charlotte. “John McCain is more honest on the issue.”

The Carolinas delegates varied on what they saw as an immovable issue for the party, something on which the GOP should never compromise, from taxes to national security to abortion.

They also offered a range of possible vulnerabilities for McCain, with many mentioning his age, 72, and others noting his past tensions with conservatives.

None, however, doubt his ability to lead their political battle.