McCain comes out fighting

WASHINGTON - John McCain is finally making noise in the White House race after weeks of anaemic photo opportunities, wide-ranging attacks and looking on as Democrat Barack Obama soaked up adulation and opinion poll leads.

WASHINGTON - John McCain is finally making noise in the White House race after weeks of anaemic photo opportunities, wide-ranging attacks and looking on as Democrat Barack Obama soaked up adulation and opinion poll leads.

The Republican, who stiffened his campaign with a negative new strategy, claimed Obama was playing the "race card" against him.

McCain mocked his Democratic foe as an empty celebrity who is prone to a messiah complex.

In the fiercest combat of the election so far, McCain tasted successive victories last week in the battle for daily news coverage.

But McCain's change of tack, which followed Republican whisperings about his performance and Obama's return from a triumphant foreign tour, carries risks along with its promise of political gain.

He hopes voters will soon start to share his view of Obama as a talented, yet presumptuous pretender who is unprepared for the presidency.

But such tactics are the political equivalent of playing with fire - and could cement Obama's narrative that McCain is ignoring real issues at a time of economic peril, has an unpleasant temper and is a typical, cynical politician.

"Any time you engage in negative campaigning you always run the risk of it backfiring," said Costas Panagopoulos, an elections and campaigns analyst.

McCain is betting that he can dim Obama's resilient star power and seems to be making a preemptive bid to limit any bounce his rival enjoys from his party convention in three weeks.

"Senator Obama is an impressive orator and it's a lucky thing for me that people aren't just choosing a motivational speaker," he said in a radio address. - Sapa

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