'This Is High-Wire Politics - Victory Is in Their Grasp but There Is a Terrifyingly Long Way to Fall' as Barack Obama Prepares to Embark on a Whistle-Stop World-Wide Charm Offensive, David Williamson Examines Why the Democrat Camp Is So Anxious

Article excerpt

Byline: David Williamson

NERVOUSNESS has replaced euphoria among supporters of Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama as a new poll shows him in a dead-heat with his Republican rival.

Each contender is on 46%, according to Rasmussen Reports.

Gallup gives Mr Obama a lead of just three points.

He will use a whirlwind tour of Europe, the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan to persuade wavering voters he is a credible commander in chief.

Republican candidate John McCain trails Mr Obama in most polls but his campaign has not been sunk by the unpopularity of President Bush.

Mr Obama's supporters are intensely aware that a successful smear campaign or a serious gaffe could bounce Mr McCain into pole position.

Mr Obama's campaign is fighting a two-pronged attack against attempts to portray him as a militant left-winger and as a Ivy League elitist.

Mr Obama is desperate to win the trust of the floating voters in the political centre at a time of rising inflation and fear of unemployment.

Such men and women will not respond positively if they believe he is either an ideological extremist or a privileged politician who cannot comprehend their anxieties.

Mr Obama's strategists area ware that Republican supporters in the 2004electionrepeatedlyquestioned Democrat John Kerry's war record to devastating effect. Despite winning some of the highest military honours for his service in Vietnam, Mr Kerry was portrayed as untrustworthy and indecisive.

Mr Obama is determined to convince voters that he can provide strong leadership in a time of crisis, which has led him to construct a foreign policy agenda which could involve even bolder military intervention than that of the Bush administration.

He believes that militants responsible for attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan should not be allowed safe shelter in the lawless border regions of Pakistan - even though a US attack on its territory could fatally destabilise the pro-western government.

Sixty-eight percent of white voters say they have an unfavourable or undecided opinion of Mr Obama, compared with 63% who hold such views of Mr McCain.

Akey risk for Mr Obama is that as he woos undecided voters he risks alienating the young, predominantly liberal voters who have funded his campaign and secured his nomination.

Already, he has outlined social positions that put him to the right of many UK Conservatives.

He supports limited use of the death penalty, has backed controversial surveillance legislation supported by the Bush administration, and his commitment to pulling troops out of Iraq has become more nuanced. …