Republicans Set Sights on Obama


By: Wall Street Journal

Recent Success Recasts The Collective Focus; New National Email Push
By ALEX FRANGOS

SALEM, N.H. — Republican presidential contenders duked it out over immigration and taxes on the final day of campaigning before today’s New Hampshire primary, but one candidate in particular shifted the focus of the entire group: Democrat Barack Obama.

The Illinois senator’s victory in Iowa and surge in opinion polls here have forced the Republicans to explain who would be the most likely to beat Mr. Obama, rather than Hillary Clinton, in the general election. Republicans have also substituted Mr. Obama as the Democrat to criticize at public events, calling him out for his views on taxes and health care and his lack of foreign-policy experience.

Mitt Romney told the media at an event in Stratham, N.H., that the rise of Mr. Obama makes the former Massachusetts governor a better choice for Republicans. He said it would be difficult for any senator serving in Washington to defeat Mr. Obama, whose call for change has enlivened voters.

“It’s going to take a person who himself is an innovator such as myself, who has the experience to bring change to Washington to be able to go head to head with Barack Obama and win,” Mr. Romney said. “Barack Obama would be able to do to John McCain exactly what he was able to do to the other senators running on the Democratic side.”

Mr. McCain indicated his experience on foreign affairs and national security would be what is needed to defeat Mr. Obama. Asked Sunday how he would defeat Mr. Obama in a general election, Mr. McCain talked about terrorism and the recent events in Pakistan. “I know how to handle the issues, I’ve been there, I know and have the experience and judgment to address those issues,” he said.

The Arizona senator spoke at an outdoor rally yesterday afternoon on the steps of city hall in Manchester, where he spoke on both the need to eliminate pork-barrel spending and his defense plan. “I’ll get Osama bin Laden if I have to follow him to the gates of hell,” he yelled. As for the troops, he made another promise: “I’ll bring ‘em home,” Mr. McCain, a veteran, said, “but I’ll bring ‘em home with honor.”

On a national level, the Republican National Committee has re-aimed its rapid-fire emails to the media. Gone are the jabs at Mrs. Clinton, with Mr. Obama the target. “Should Obama make it to the general [election], his liberal record and tendencies will be exposed in a way they can’t be in a primary,” said an email sent yesterday.

In the Republican debate Saturday night, all the candidates were asked about Mr. Obama, and cited their differences on taxes, abortion, immigration and health care. “Sen. Obama has adopted the position of every liberal interest group in this country as best I can tell,” said former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson.

But there was also a sense that Mr. Obama had upended the race by using optimism and calls for change to draw support from first-time and independent voters. “We’d better be careful as a party, because if we don’t give people something to be for, and only something to be against, we’re going to lose that next election,” said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

After finishing out front in Iowa, Mr. Huckabee received a modest bounce in the opinion polls in New Hampshire and has a chance to finish a respectable third behind Messrs. McCain and Romney.

After two days of toning down his conservative Christian message, the Baptist preacher returned to religious themes, possibly in an attempt to rally the small New Hampshire evangelical community.

–Laura Meckler and Elizabeth Holmes contributed to this article.

Write to Alex Frangos at alex.frangos@wsj.com

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