Byline: John J. Monahan
The next president of the United States will face the aftermath of an economic hurricane that has ravaged retirement funds, property values and the banking system and the onset of what could be a global recession and rising unemployment.
Whether it is Democrat Sen. Barack Obama or Republican Sen. John McCain, he will be sworn in to lead a nation trying to find an exit strategy for the war in Iraq and facing an uncertain outcome in the guerrilla war in Afghanistan.
Many controversial domestic issues, including abortion, energy independence, global warming policy and who will get tax breaks or federal bailouts, could be decided in large part by whom voters choose Tuesday to replace two-term Republican President George W. Bush.
Mr. McCain, 72, and the father of seven children, is a Naval Academy graduate who retired after 22 years as a decorated Navy fighter pilot. He spent 5-1/2 years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. As a congressman and senator from Arizona, he gained a reputation as moderate conservative willing to challenge wasteful spending and buck his own party on occasion.
He strongly supported the initial invasion of Iraq. While criticizing President Bush's management of the war, he was among the few presidential candidates who backed last year's troop surge in Iraq, which has led to a significant reduction in insurgent violence there.
Mr. Obama, 47, and the father of two children, grew up in Hawaii except for a few years spent in Indonesia, and graduated from Columbia University in 1983. After graduation he took up work as a community organizer in poor neighborhoods in Chicago for several years before moving to Massachusetts to attend Harvard Law School. He became the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review.
After graduating in 1991, he returned to Chicago and won a state Senate seat that he held for eight years. In 2004, Mr. Obama ran successfully for the U.S. Senate to become only the third African-American elected to the Senate since the Civil War.
He drew national attention with a keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in 2004, emphasizing the politics of hope over politics of cynicism and calling for a new brand of less confrontational politics promoting social justice and opportunity. "There's not a liberal America and a conservative America, there's the United States of America," he declared then, heralding a theme he has worked throughout the presidential campaign.
A prominent opponent of the initial invasion of Iraq, Mr. Obama has long called for a timetable for withdrawal and a refocusing of military operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al-Qaida forces there.
Both candidates beat large fields of candidates in extended primary elections that began earlier than ever and lasted far into the spring. Backed by an extensive network of grass-roots volunteers, Mr. Obama finally beat out the early front-runner, N.Y. Sen. Hillary Clinton, with a campaign promising "change we can believe in." Mr. McCain, trading on his signature "straight talk" style, outpolled more conservative bids by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee through a string of elections that followed his initial victory in the New Hampshire this year.
Both chose vice presidential running mates intended to bolster their candidacies. Mr. Obama picked Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., whose deep knowledge of foreign policy and extensive experience with international crises countered criticism that Mr. Obama
lacked experience in foreign affairs. Mr. McCain tapped a national political neophyte, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, in a move seen as an attempt to shore up the ticket's appeal with conservatives and those disappointed with Mrs. Clinton's failed bid to have a woman on the Democratic presidential ticket.
In the final phases of the campaign, the candidates have skirmished over different approaches to the economic crisis, foreign affairs, energy independence, health care, and tax cuts. Mr. Obama has characterized Mr. McCain as offering more of the same policies of the Bush administration, while Mr. McCain has increasingly tried to separate himself from the Bush legacy.
Party affiliation: Constitution
Education: Thomas Road Bible Institute; bachelor's and master's degrees from Christian Bible College.
Political experience: State chairman Florida Moral Majority; 2004 vice presidential candidate for the Constitution Party, the Alaska Independence Party, and other tickets.
Issues: Foreign policy views include opposition to the "new world order," the United Nations, NATO, free-trade agreements, the Iraq war, and illegal immigration. Accuses Mexico of deliberately working to destabilize the United States. Believes the United States should withdraw from the U.N. and would push to get the U.N. out of New York City. Reopen...