White House hopeful Barack Obama was back in the United States Sunday after a triumphant foreign trip, facing a new assault from Republican rival John McCain over his cancelled visit to wounded US troops in Germany.
Despite the adulation that greeted him on a his stops through the Middle East and Europe, before departing London the Democratic Party candidate played down the potential gains the trip might have for him in the presidential race.
"I am not sure that there is going to be some immediate political impact," Obama said in a solo press conference earlier outside 10 Downing Street, the official residence of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Obama sailed through the biggest tests of his trip , in Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel, apparently gaffe-free, and captured an unprecedented photo-op for a presidential candidate, speaking before a staggering 200,000 people in Berlin.
Republicans however branded his tour, also including Kuwait, France and Jordan, as a shallow political stunt.
And McCain’s team sought to highlight Obama’s failure to visit wounded troops from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars at the Landstuhl US military hospital in Germany on Friday — probably the only real hiccup of the trip.
"I think there have been nine different excuses out of Barack Obama’s campaign as to why that trip and that visit never took place, and all of them fundamentally ignore one fact, which is that he couldn’t make time in his schedule to meet with wounded combat troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan," McCain’s spokesman Tucker Bounds told Fox News on Saturday.
And even before Obama got off the plane in Chicago, McCain already had created a television ad raising the issue.
"And now, he made time to go to the gym, but cancelled a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon wouldn’t allow him to bring cameras," the ad said.
Obama’s campaign said that the visit was cancelled to avoid putting soldiers in a difficul position, after the Pentagon indicated it would consider the event a political exercise.
Obama ally Senator Jack Reed on Saturday released a statement noting that the Illinois Senator had visited troops in Afghanistan and Iraq last week, while he was on a congressionally funded trip to the two warzones.
"He cares for our troops deeply," Reed said.
Obama’s tour was seen as an attempt to reduce voters’ doubts over his credentials as commander-in-chief — one of the few policy areas in which he trails McCain.
In London Obama and Brown sat on wicker chairs on the back patio of Number 10 and chatted, one-on-one, before strolling together, watched by armed security teams on the adjacent Horse Guards Parade.
Obama said the hour-long talks ranged through a string of foreign policy challenges, including Iran’s nuclear drive and his desire to refocus US military policy on rising violence in Afghanistan.
He declined to offer Brown any political advice, after the premier slumped this week to his third by-election defeat in as many months.
"I will tell you that you are always more popular before you are actually in charge of things," Obama said.
"Once you are responsible then you are going to make some people unhappy, and that is just the nature of politics."
Obama also met Brown’s predecessor Tony Blair, now the international community’s Middle East envoy, and opposition Conservative Party leader David Cameron.
Those meetings followed visits with France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany’s Angela Merkel, Obama opening relations with Washington’s three largest allies in Europe.
A new opinion poll on Saturday suggested Obama had stabilized his national lead, after McCain appeared to be chipping away at it earlier in the week.
Obama led by 48 to 41 percent in the Gallup poll conducted between July 23 and 25, while he was abroad.
In a Rasmussen poll, Obama was up 49 percent to 43 percent on McCain, including voters who were leaning towards one candidate or the other.
Just four days ago, the rivals were tied at 46 percent.