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Analysis: Pakistan crisis could put premium on experience

  • Story Highlights
  • Former Pakistani Prime Minister Bhutto assassinated Thursday
  • Candidates tout foreign policy experience on campaign trail
  • With Iowa caucuses in one week, crisis could put emphasis on leadership qualities
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DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) -- Even though it happened half a world away, the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan could have an effect on the campaign in Iowa.

John McCain touted his foreign policy experience while on the campaign trail in Iowa on Thursday.

It could put the spotlight on international issues. And it could highlight the importance of experience, as the candidates go into the final stretch before the Iowa caucuses on January 3.

Before the crisis, "outsiders are in" and "it's the economy, stupid" were becoming the conventional wisdom about the 2008 campaign.

But the news of Bhutto's assassination suddenly adds a new dimension to the campaign. Candidates on Thursday were touting their foreign policy credentials. Video Watch the candidates' reactions »

"I'm the one with the experience, the knowledge and the judgment, so perhaps it may serve to enhance those credentials or make people understand that I've been to Waziristan. I know [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf," Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain told CNN.

"This fall, I twice urged President Musharraf to provide better security for Ms. Bhutto and other political leaders,'' Joe Biden, Democratic candidate and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Thursday.

The crisis gave former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani an opportunity to call attention to his signature issue -- 9/11.

"America feels a connection because of the attacks that took place here. It reminds us we have to redouble our efforts in that part of that world. We have to be on the offense in the war on Islamic terrorism," Giuliani said in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Populist candidates and outsiders seemed to be gaining momentum in this campaign: Sen. Barack Obama in the Democratic race, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on the Republican side.

But the international crisis gives their opponents an opening. Suddenly, experience matters.

"Our next president will be sworn in on January 20, 2009, at noon. Waiting on that president's desk in the Oval Office will be problems that are incredibly difficult, that present challenges to our leadership in the world," Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton said in Lawton, Iowa.

Other candidates will challenge their experience, as Obama did recently when he asked about Clinton's influence as first lady. "If you are saying this is your relevant experience, we should know what decisions you were involved with in the White House," Obama said.

When asked by CNN what he though of Giuliani's ability to handle the situation in Pakistan, McCain said, "I don't know. I know he doesn't have any experience there."

But experience and knowledge of the world may now loom larger in this campaign.


"I believe people have a sense of, and are increasingly getting a sense of, who's grown up and responsible, who is really, actually ready, to sit behind that desk and make decisions," Biden said.

In primaries, voters often want to make a statement. A crisis like this serves to remind them that they're also choosing a leader. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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