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Presidential campaigns spar over Georgia

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  • McCain too focused on Iraq to see looming crisis in Georgia, Obama team says
  • McCain supporters say he's better able to handle Georgia crisis
  • Obama has called on Russia to "reduce tensions"
  • McCain says U.S. should stand firmly behind Georgia
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration and Republican-standard-bearer John McCain were too distracted by the war in Iraq to see the crisis in Georgia on the horizon, supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama charged Sunday.

"If the president and Sen. McCain weren't so obsessed on an open-ended commitment to Iraq, perhaps we would have paid greater attention to some of these issues," Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

Other prominent Democrats, including Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, pressed the same point on other Sunday news shows. McCain's surrogates hit back that Obama's initial reaction to Russia's August 8 incursion into Georgia shows the Illinois senator lacks the toughness needed to be president.

"One of the questions this crisis raises is, who do you want sitting across the table from Vladimir Putin and people like him, John McCain or Sen. Obama?" Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty told CBS. "And I think the answer is Sen. McCain."

The push by Obama's supporters -- all of whom were asked about a possible vice presidential candidacy Sunday -- extends a common theme of the Democratic campaign. Obama argued the now widely unpopular Iraq war distracted the United States from more pressing concerns, and touted his early opposition to the 2003 invasion.

In addition, Bayh said Obama has been calling for a resolution to the disputes over Georgia's two secessionist regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, for several months.

Obama's earliest campaign statement on Georgia came in April, when he criticized Russia's announcement that it was extending legal ties with the South Ossetian and Abhazian regional governments. So did McCain, whose top international policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, is a former lobbyist for the Georgian government.

On July 23, Obama also called on Moscow to "reduce tensions, avoid the risks of war and re-engage in peaceful negotiations," and urged Georgia to avoid "the temptation to be drawn into a military conflict."

McCain, of Arizona, has sharply criticized Russia for its move into Georgia, which followed a week of clashes between Georgian and South Ossetian forces and a Georgian push against the separatists. His supporters have touted that full-throated support of the Georgian government and criticized Obama's initial call for restraint on both sides of the conflict.

On ABC's "This Week," former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said McCain "didn't need to get briefed on South Ossetia and Georgia to make his statement about what ought to be done there."

"He knew immediately what ought to be done because he's been there time and again, he's been to the region time and again, he's been to South Ossetia, he knows the characters involved, and so he was able to move immediately and with strength and with a definition of the issue that others had to follow," said Romney, who ran against McCain in the Republican primaries earlier this year. "He's been ahead on this for some time."

But speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," Kaine said Obama had "a very measured response."

"Teddy Roosevelt said talk softly and carry a big stick," he said. "In much of the world now, we're talking loudly and have no stick because what we've done is we've so focused on Iraq that we've let victory escape from our grasp in Afghanistan, and in regions of the world like Russia, we've let the dangers grow more intense."

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