Team Obama plans lunch with Clinton to plot fightback

The campaign team behind Barack Obama has been regrouping after 10 days of media fascination with Republican vice-presidential pick Sarah Palin, dispatching Hillary Clinton into Florida and advertising a lunch summit this week between their candidate and Bill Clinton.

Democrats sense trouble as John McCain, the Republican nominee, rides a surge in his poll ratings which seem to reflect his bringing Mrs Palin, the Governor of Alaska, on to his ticket. A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey put McCain and Obama on 48 per cent each.

Speaking in Kissimmee, near Orlando, Mrs Clinton said voting for McCain-Palin would saddle America with "more of the same". She spoke of the failure of Republicans to address the voters' economic woes. "I didn't hear the Republicans address the needs of real Americans," she said. "I don't think it could be any clearer what the choice should be."

After putting off a planned return to Alaska over the weekend, Mrs Palin continued to campaign alongside Mr McCain at a large rally in Kansas City, Missouri.

The Republicans aired a new television ad. "The original mavericks," it began. "He took on the drug industry. She took on big oil. He battled Republicans and reformed Washington. She battled Republicans and reformed Alaska. They'll make history."

Democrats hope fielding Mrs Clinton will hold woman voters in November. Aides cautioned, however, that she was unlikely directly to attack the Alaska Governor from the stump. There will be no Clinton-Palin "cat-fight", former Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said. Mr Obama will complete the healing of rifts between himself and the Clintons at a lunch with former President Bill in New York on Thursday.

Democrats and much of the media are anxious to see how Mrs Palin performs away from Mr McCain, particularly when protective barriers are lifted to allow reporters to question her. Under pressure to show she is up to scrutiny, the Governor has agreed to a one-on-one interview with ABC news. In a Fox interview, President Bush said: "I find her to be a very dynamic, capable, smart woman, who, you know, it really says that John McCain made an inspired pick." Condoleezza Rice declined to comment on Mrs Palin.

An unexpected problem for the Democrats came after Mr Obama was talking about religion on ABC TV on Sunday. He inadvertently said "my Muslim faith". He immediately corrected himself – he is a Christian – but not fast enough to stop conservative bloggers rekindling rumours that he is Muslim.

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