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Election 2008: 'Change We Need' or 'Country First?'

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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Steve Ember.


And I'm Barbara Klein. Our subject this week is the election. On Tuesday, after a campaign that lasted almost two years, Americans will elect their forty-fourth president.



Barack Obama entered the final week of the campaign leading in national opinion polls and in many of the states that could decide the election.

BARACK OBAMA: "Do not believe for a second that this election is over. Do not think for a minute that power concedes. We have a lot of work to do. We have to work like our future depends on it in this last week, because it does depend on it this week!"

The Democrat began giving what his campaign called his "closing argument" in a speech last Monday in Ohio.

BARACK OBAMA: "John McCain might be worried about losing an election, but I am worried about Americans who are losing their homes and their jobs and their life savings. I can take one more week of John McCain's attacks, but this country cannot take four more years of the same failed politics and the same failed policies. It is time to try something new!"


John McCain was also in Ohio.

JOHN McCAIN: "With one week left in this campaign, the choice facing Americans is stark. My economic goals and policies are very clear."

Senator McCain wants to permanently extend President Bush's tax cuts. Senator Obama would let those tax cuts end. He says he wants tax cuts for the middle class, not the wealthy.

John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, have suggested that the plan amounts to socialism.

JOHN McCAIN: "And that is the problem with Senator Obama's approach to our economy. He is more interested in controlling wealth than creating it, in redistributing money instead of spreading opportunity. I am going to create wealth for all Americans by creating opportunity for all Americans!"


Ohio is a major battleground state. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. The last Democrat to win without carrying that state was John Kennedy in nineteen sixty.

Ohio has twenty votes in the Electoral College and decided the last election. Two hundred seventy electoral votes are needed to win the presidency.

As of last week, the average of polls showed Ohio leaning toward Senator Obama.

Pennsylvania has twenty-one electoral votes. John McCain was still campaigning there last week even as polls showed a solid lead for Barack Obama. By late in the week Senator Obama appeared to have lost some of his lead in Pennsylvania.

Florida has twenty-seven electoral votes and decided the disputed election of two thousand. As of last week polls showed that the race in Florida remained close.



The election will be historic, whoever wins the White House.

Senator Barack Obama of Illinois is the first black presidential candidate of a major party. And he has set new records for raising campaign money.

Senator John McCain of Arizona would at age seventy-two become the nation’s oldest first-term president. And Sarah Palin is the first woman on a Republican presidential ballot.


The next president will have a lot to do. The United States is fighting two wars. The situation is improving in Iraq but getting worse in Afghanistan. Barack Obama has promised to withdraw most troops from Iraq within sixteen months in office. John McCain supports the war and opposes setting time limits.

The top issue, though, is the economy. What began as a housing crisis is now America's worst financial crisis since the nineteen thirties. And it has spread around the world.


Throughout the campaign, Barack Obama sought to tie John McCain to the unpopular current occupant of the White House. He pointed to Senator McCain's record of voting with George W. Bush more than ninety percent of the time over the last eight years.

John McCain rejected the comparisons. And he, in turn, sought to tie Barack Obama to the unpopular, Democratic-led Congress, saying they would "tax and spend." In the closing days of the campaign, he warned increasingly of the dangers of one-party rule.


Barack Obama is forty-seven years old. He served eight years in the Illinois state senate. He was elected to the United States Senate in November of two thousand four.

Millions of Americans saw him for the first time that year when he spoke at the Democratic National Convention. He called on Americans to look beyond party politics and unite for the good of the country.


Barack Obama was born in Hawaii to a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya. He knew little of his father. His parents divorced when he was two.

His mother was an anthropologist who for a time was on public assistance. His grandparents helped raise him after his mother moved to Indonesia. He spent part of his childhood in Jakarta after she married an Indonesian man.

Barack Obama graduated from Columbia University in New York City. After college he became a community organizer in Chicago, his adopted hometown. Later, at Harvard Law School, was elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review.

His wife, Michelle, is also a Harvard-trained lawyer. She grew up in a working class family in Chicago. The Obamas have two young daughters.


Anti-Obama e-mails have said he is Muslim. He is Christian. He is also biracial but has said that he considers himself black. Nine out ten black voters support him. And polls have shown that many white voters who supported President Bush say they will vote for him over John McCain.

Yet one-third of voters in a recent New York Times-CBS News poll said they knew someone who will not support him mainly because he is black.

Eighty-two-year-old Bob Moller of Washington, D.C., is white. He says he plans to vote for Barack Obama partly because he believes the Democrat would help to heal some of the nation's racial wounds.

BOB MOLLER: "I hope I live long enough to see a black man in the White House with his family. That would make me joyous beyond words. Because of our history of slavery and all the aftermath, and it was not until the civil rights movement that things began to right themselves. It's just been disgraceful and embarrassing to me as a citizen."

Edika Onubah is a student at Howard University, a traditionally black school in Washington, D.C. Now that she is eighteen, she can vote for the first time.

EDIKA ONUBAH: "I'm voting for Barack Obama because when I watched him on television I felt that what he was saying was sincere, that he meant it, that he wants change."

Barack Obama has campaigned on a message of "Change We Need."


John McCain's message is "Country First."

Among those who plan to vote for him is Richard Peters, a retiree from New Jersey. He says he has been hit hard financially in recent weeks, but his major issue of concern in this election is terrorism.

RICHARD PETERS: "I am of the opinion that if we don't protect this country from terrorism and all the other free countries from terrorism then nothing else much matters."

John McCain was born on an American naval base in the Panama Canal Zone. His father and grandfather were admirals in the Navy. He studied at the Naval Academy and became a Navy pilot.

His plane was shot down over Hanoi during the Vietnam War. He spent five and a half years as a prisoner of the communist North Vietnamese. He refused an offer of early release. He faced severe beatings. He returned home with permanent injuries to his arms -- but a war hero.

After retiring from the Navy, he was elected to the House of Representatives in nineteen eighty-two. Four years later he was elected to the Senate. He became known for working with Democrats and not always supporting his own party.

This is his second campaign for the White House. In two thousand he lost the Republican Party nomination to George Bush.

John McCain has had the most serious form of skin cancer, melanoma, most recently in two thousand two. He and his wife Cindy have four children, plus three from his first marriage. Cindy McCain heads one of the nation's largest beer distribution companies, which her father started.


Barack Obama's choice for vice president is Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. He is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Joe Biden is sixty-six years old and was first elected to the Senate in nineteen seventy-two.


Sarah Palin is forty-four and the governor of Alaska. She was elected in November of two thousand six. Earlier, she was mayor of the town of Wasilla for six years.


Barack Obama and John McCain have talked a lot about change. But many of the changes they propose require approval by Congress.

All four hundred thirty-five seats in the House of Representatives will be on Tuesday's ballot. The Democrats currently hold a thirty-seven-seat majority.

In the Senate, which has one hundred seats, just over a third will be decided. The Democrats now have a two-seat majority. The party hopes to win at least six more.


Record numbers of Americans have already been voting. The majority of states now permit early voting in person or by mail even without the need for an excuse. Nationally, about one-third of voters are expected to cast their ballots early this year. Both major parties have thousands of lawyers ready for Election Day in case of problems with voting.


Our program was written by Brianna Blake and produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Steve Ember.


And I'm Barbara Klein. VOA will have full coverage of Tuesday's elections on radio, TV and the Internet, at Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.