McCain/Obama Irish Battle

THE Barack Obama/John McCain battle for Irish American hearts and minds has certainly heated up.

There appears to be a recognition on both sides that key states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania could come down to districts where Irish Americans are the swing voters.

McCain certainly has being putting in the time and energy, as his appearance at the Irish Presidential Forum in Scranton on Monday makes clear.

Prior to the forum he held a meeting with leading Irish Americans from the key states. Those present said he appeared very relaxed and at home with the questions on Ireland.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina accompanies McCain everywhere on the trail, and told some of the Irish Americans that he never saw McCain so relaxed as when he is around Irish American crowds.

Meanwhile, the Obama people have begun to plug into the Irish American audience. They offered vice presidential candidate Senator Joe Biden as a speaker for the presidential forum, but organizer John Dearie is hanging out for the candidate himself.

Also, Obama's top foreign policy advisor Denis McDonough has become involved in chasing down the Irish American vote and has had several conversations with key Irish figures in the past week.

The extra attention makes it clear that both parties are now zeroing in on key states. Pennsylvania is a must win for Obama, and the McCain people appear to believe it is their best chance to upset his hopes.

Certainly given the reception McCain received at the Irish forum, it is clear that he has great popularity among grassroots Irish. It will be interesting to see how Obama would fare with a similar audience if he agrees to appear at the forum.

McCain Avoids Anti-Immigrant Candidate

IT was very interesting that McCain chose an Irish venue to reignite his support for comprehensive immigration reform -- a big step.

Obviously he had been under pressure from his own rank and file to take the low road on immigration reform, but he made clear in his comments that he was not going that route.

McCain had appeared at three separate rallies for the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform over the past two years, and he was clearly comfortable staking out his pro-immigration stance before an Irish audience again.

It didn't seem to matter that the crowd in general was probably anti immigrant. They cheered McCain anyway as he spoke about the 50,000 Irish undocumented and the need to legalize them.

Noticeably absent at the event was the mayor of nearby Hazelton Louis Barletta, whose town passed some of the most anti-Hispanic immigrant legislation in the past few years and who is now running for Congress.

It appears McCain was making a statement that he personally had no time for such legislation. Barletta is in a very close race and will surely replace the retiring Tom Tancredo from Colorado as the major anti-immigrant voice if he is elected.

Obama Playing Catch Up

THE Obama camp have been utilizing their big guns, from Senator Pat Leahy to Friends of Ireland head Congressman Richie Neal, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley and Congressman Joe Crowley in their efforts to solidify the Irish American support.

The joint phone call to Irish American media on the day of the Scranton Irish event featuring McCain was a clear attempt to steal the thunder.

Last week Neal was instrumental in getting a new statement from the campaign on the U.S. envoy to Ireland. The statement, however, said very little other than Obama was now committed to the envoy after previously wavering on the issue.

It may well be that the Irish pols that Obama has tapped as advisors are getting very little to work with. If Obama does not appear at the presidential forum it will be hard to explain to the Irish American activists that he is taking their concerns seriously after McCain became the first Republican to do so.

Who Will Win The Election?

SO what will the election come down to? A leading political strategist in New York says it will be a question of whether Obama's incredible new voter registration effort will counterbalance the soft racism of those who say they will vote for him, but actually will not.

This expert says that polls showing Obama ahead by a sliver mean very little, and that until Election Day it will be very difficult to figure just who will turn out.

"Remember he turned out tens of thousands of new voters in states like Iowa which took everyone by surprise," said the operative. "If he does that on election night in states like North Carolina and Nevada we could all be in for a huge surprise."

On the other side, he says Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has given McCain a boost with the grassroots and may add a few percentage points. However he added, "McCain still has difficulty rallying his base. He will need a massive turnout too."