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Economy Dominates Campaigning as Race Enters Final Stretch

Columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks evaluate the candidates' renewed focus on the economy and the likely strategies at play as the Obama and McCain campaigns enter the final stretch.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Mark, the candidates remain very much on the attack, but it's about issues now, is it not?

    MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist: It is. It is on issues. Barack Obama very heavy on health care, going on issues that he feels work — do work for Democrats, no question about it, work for him. John McCain going on taxes, which has been the strong suit for the Republicans.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    David, Obama has said from the beginning that he sees health care as part of the overall economic issue. Do you agree with that as a principle?

    DAVID BROOKS, columnist, New York Times: Well, I guess if you include the economic issue as uncertainty. It is true when you go out on the campaign trail, health care has been sometimes every other question, especially earlier in the year, less the last couple of months.

    And people see it, I think, especially middle-class people everybody is going for, as part of the uncertainty of the times.

    Now, I must say, I mean, the two issues they're talking about are issues they could have been talking about six months ago, and they're very safe issues for each of them. I'm not sure either have really adapted to the issues of the last month.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    You mean the financial and economic…

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Right. And that's a tougher issue. And it seems to me both of them are tested by it.

    Say, the health care thing, I mean, Barack Obama's health care plan, which costs a lot of money, even accepting his cost savings, which are dubious. Is he going to still have such an ambitious health care plan given the new fiscal reality?

    It seems to me that's the crucial question that Democrats are debating. They're almost debating the governing decisions he's going to have to make. Do you blow a hole through the deficit because of the recession? Or do you pay attention to the deficit and try to restrain spending?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    In fairness to Obama, the corporate argument that's made, that United States' business, to be competitive internationally, that there has to be — the burden that is now shouldered by American corporations for health care of their workers under contracts, that that has to be — that burden to be lifted by a national health plan, that they feel the American economy and American corporations can be more competitive internationally.