When Obama's Overseas, Will McCain Attack?

When presidents travel overseas, the opposition party generally refrains from partisan criticism. But what's the rule for presidential candidates? Sen. Barack Obama leaves soon for a long trip across the pond; will John McCain use the occasion to attack? Or will he leave Obama alone?

When McCain traveled to Canada and South America, he chose not to personally engage Obama, leaving the dirty work to his campaign apparatus. (Unusually enough, the plane ride to and fro were deemed fair game by the McCain campaign.)

"Obama and his campaign have already settled that question," a McCain aide says. "They criticized McCain when he was in Columbia and they did the same when he was in Iraq."

It's hard to imagine that the McCain campaign won't be watching every single statement uttered by Obama very closely. But what should they do? A frontal attack on Obama's experience while he's in harm's way would strike many as tasteless, but not providing a response would be political malpractice. Alternatively, Britian is not a war zone. It's easier to rebut Obama when he's visiting the Queen than when he's visiting American troops.

One Republican strategist suggests that the campaign leave the tough stuff to third parties. If Obama makes a gaffe, gin up the Matt Drudge outrage engine and get the Republican blogs riled up and frothy.

Or McCain could use the week to drill down on economic policy; he'll have the whole country to himself.

Getting the media to cover John McCain in equal proportion to Obama will be tough, and the McCain folks know this.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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