From Iraq to diplomacy, via healthcare and jobs, the battle for the US presidency took shape Sunday with only two viable contenders left standing: Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.
After Hillary Clinton’s departure from the Democratic race and full-throated endorsement of Obama Saturday, supporters of the Illinois senator and McCain hammered the main themes that will define November’s election.
But the former first lady was not entirely out of the picture yet, with Clinton surrogates flagging up her 18 million primary votes to press her qualification to be vice president in an Obama administration.
"I’ve looked at every other possible candidate. No one brings to a ticket what Hillary brings," California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who hosted a hush-hush meeting between the two Democrats late Thursday, told ABC News.
Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson reaffirmed that the New York senator was not agitating for the vice presidency under Obama, 46.
"Senator Clinton said she will do whatever she is asked to do to elect Barack Obama. She’s not seeking the job and it is Senator Obama’s decision, solely his decision," he told CNN.
In the meantime, Wolfson said, Clinton will return to the Senate to represent her New York constituents and "continue to fight for the causes that have animated her whole life."
Tim Kaine, Virginia’s Democratic governor who is also touted as a possible VP pick for Obama, said the 71-year-old McCain’s long years as a Washington insider did not guarantee he has better judgment than his rival.
"We’ve seen Washington make blunder after blunder in this decision about (going) to war in Iraq and in the course that they have pursued," Kaine told Fox News Sunday.
"And Senator McCain has said that we’re going to keep pursuing that course."
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, a Republican mentioned as a potential VP nominee for McCain, portrayed Obama as a tax-and-spend liberal who was dangerously wrong on the Iraq war and on his desire to meet leaders of US foes.
"He is somebody who’s been out of the mainstream not just of America but of his party," Pawlenty said.
"He’s somebody who has taken positions that have regularly ranked lock-step, almost robotically, with the Democratic caucus and liberal interest groups," he said, drawing a contrast with McCain’s record as a Republican maverick.
Pawlenty and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said Obama planned a "big government" takeover of US healthcare and his economic policies would drive up business costs and eliminate jobs.
Kaine and John Kerry, the Democrats’ defeated nominee in 2004, said McCain would leave 47 million Americans without any health insurance and would offer instead a third term for the deeply unpopular president, George W. Bush.
"You know, he has a campaign filled with lobbyists … some of whom were actually lobbying for the worst offenders of the predatory practices of the housing crisis. That’s not reform," Massachusetts Senator Kerry said.
There was praise meanwhile for Clinton’s gracious exit speech , which contrasted with her defiance on Tuesday night when Obama clinched enough delegates to become the first African-American nominee of a major party.
"She knocked it out of the park yesterday with her speech," said Kaine, who added that a "fundamental desire" for change among US voters would heal Democratic wounds in time for the November 4 election.
"And the match-up between Senator McCain and Senator Obama couldn’t be more clear," the Virginia governor said.
Basking in the devotion of around 2,000 supporters at an emotional rally in Washington, Clinton ended her quest to be the first female president and said Obama was a man of "grace and grit" who was also tilting at history.
"The way to continue our fight now, to accomplish the goals for which we stand is to take our energy, our passions, our strengths and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States," she said.