After nearly two years of campaigning, the race between Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama comes down to the next two weeks. From sound bites to speeches to debates, thereÍs no dearth of discourse. But many voters still are trying to understand where the candidates stand on key issues. To that end, we offer a summary of candidate positions on more than a dozen hot topics. For more, go to PolitiFact.com, our fact-checking Web site, where you can search for rulings by subject.
Sen. Barack Obama
D - Illinois
Obama, 47, has been a U.S. senator from Illinois for the past four years. Before that, he was a state senator for eight years, from 1996 to 2004. He also was a civil rights attorney for four years, and he practiced law part time during the eight years he was in the state legislature. Obama also taught law school part time and wrote a couple of best-selling memoirs. Right after college, Obama spent three years working as a community organizer. He married Michelle Robinson in 1992. They have two daughters: Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7.
Professional/legal experience: Four years full time and eight years part time.
11 years part time.
State legislative experience:
Federal legislative experience: Four years.
R - Arizona
McCain, 72, has been a U.S. senator from Arizona since 1986, for a total of 22 years. Prior to that, he served in the U.S. Congress for four years, from 1982 to 1986. He served for 22 years in the U.S. Navy. Included in that time are 5 1/2 years he spent in a prisoner of war camp in Vietnam; the four years he served as the U.S. Navy Liaison to the Senate; and the 13 months he spent as the executive for the Replacement Air Group 174 in Jacksonville. Married Cindy Hensley in 1980. They have two sons and two daughters (one adopted): Jack, 22; Jimmy, 20; Meghan, 23; and Bridget, 17. McCain has a daughter and two adopted sons from his first marriage to Carol Shepp: Doug, 48; Andy, 46; and Sidney, 42.
Federal legislative experience:
|Favors abortion rights.||Abortion||Opposes abortion rights. Has voted for abortion restrictions permissible under Roe vs. Wade, and now says he would seek to overturn that guarantee of abortion rights. Would not seek constitutional amendment to ban abortion.|
|Would add about 7,000 troops to the U.S. force of 36,000, bringing the reinforcements from Iraq. Has threatened unilateral attacks on high-value terrorist targets in Pakistan as they become exposed "if Pakistan cannot or will not act" against them.||Afghanistan||Favors unspecified boost in U.S. forces.|
|Ease restrictions on family-related travel and on money Cuban-Americans want to send to their families in Cuba. Open to meeting new Cuban leader Raul Castro without preconditions. Ease trade embargo if Havana "begins opening Cuba to meaningful democratic change."||Cuba||Ease restrictions on Cuba once United States is "confident that the transition to a free and open democracy is being made."|
|Supports death penalty for crimes for which the "community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage." As Illinois lawmaker, wrote bill mandating videotaping of interrogations and confessions in capital cases that became law and made Illinois the first state to require taping by statute. He also sought other changes in a system that had produced wrongful convictions.||Death penalty||Has supported expansion of the federal death penalty and limits on appeals.|
|An $18-billion plan that would encourage, but not mandate, universal prekindergarten. Teacher pay raises tied to, although not based solely on, test scores. An overhaul of No Child Left Behind law to measure student progress, make room for non-core subjects like music and art and be less punitive toward failing schools. A tax credit to pay up to $4,000 of college costs for students who perform 100 hours of community service a year.||Education||He is not proposing a federal voucher program that would provide public money for private school tuition, in contrast to his proposed $5-billion voucher plan in 2000. Only proposes expansion of District of ColumbiaÍs voucher program. Sees No Child Left Behind law as vehicle for increasing opportunities for parents to choose schools. Proposes more money for community college education.|
|Now would consider limited increase in offshore drilling. Opposes drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Proposes windfall-profits tax on largest oil companies to pay for energy rebate of up to $1,000. Opposed suspension of gasoline tax. Proposed releasing 70-million barrels of oil from Strategic Petroleum Reserve to boost supplies and lower prices. Global warming plan would increase energy costs.||Energy||Favors increased offshore drilling and federal money to help build 45 nuclear power reactors by 2030. Opposes drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Proposed suspending the 18-cent a gallon federal gasoline tax but idea got no traction. Global warming plan would increase energy costs.|
|Opposes constitutional amendment to ban it. Supports civil unions, says states should decide about marriage. Switched positions in 2004 and now supports repeal of Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages and gives states the right to refuse to recognize such marriages.||Gay marriage||Opposes constitutional amendment to ban it. Says same-sex couples should be allowed to enter into legal agreements for insurance and similar benefits, and states should decide about marriage. Supports the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages and gives states the right to refuse to recognize such marriages.|
|Ten-year, $150-billion program to produce "climate friendly" energy supplies that heÍd pay for with a carbon auction requiring businesses to bid competitively for the right to pollute and aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. Joined McCain in sponsoring earlier legislation that would set mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions. Increase federal fuel economy requirements beyond 35 mpg.||Global warming||Broke with President Bush on global warming. Led Senate effort to cap greenhouse gas emissions. Favors plan that would see greenhouse gas emissions cut by 66 percent by 2050.|
|Voted to leave gun-makers and dealers open to civil suits. Also, as Illinois state lawmaker, supported ban on all forms of semiautomatic weapons and tighter state restrictions generally on firearms. "I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through commonsense, effective safety measures."||Gun control||Voted against ban on assault-type weapons but in favor of requiring background checks at gun shows. Voted to shield gun-makers and dealers from civil suits. "I believe the Second Amendment ought to be preserved Ñ which means no gun control."|
|Mandatory coverage for children, no mandate for adults. Aim for universal coverage by requiring employers to share costs of insuring workers and by offering coverage similar to that in plan for federal employees. Says package would cost up to $65-billion a year after unspecified savings from making system more efficient. Raise taxes on wealthier families to pay the cost.||Health care||$2,500 refundable tax credit for individuals, $5,000 for families, to make health insurance more affordable. No mandate for universal coverage. In gaining the tax credit, workers could not deduct the portion of their workplace health insurance paid by their employers.|
|Tax credit covering 10 percent of annual mortgage-interest payments for "struggling homeowners," scoring system for consumers to compare mortgages, a fund for mortgage-fraud victims, new penalties for mortgage fraud, aid to state and local governments stung by housing crisis, in $20-billion plan geared to "responsible homeowners."||Housing||Open to helping homeowners facing foreclosure if they are "legitimate borrowers" and not speculators.|
|Voted for 2006 bill that would have allowed illegal immigrants to stay in the United States, work and apply to become legal residents after learning English, paying fines and back taxes and clearing a background check. Voted for border fence.||Immigration||Sponsored 2006 bill that would have allowed illegal immigrants to stay in the United States, work and apply to become legal residents after learning English, paying fines and back taxes and clearing a background check. Now says he would secure border first. Supports border fence.|
|Initially said he would meet President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions, now says heÍs not sure "Ahmadinejad is the right person to meet with right now." But says direct diplomacy with Iranian leaders would give United States more credibility to press for tougher sanctions. Says he would intensify diplomatic pressure on Tehran before Israel feels the need to take unilateral military action against Iranian nuclear facilities.||Iran||Favors tougher sanctions, opposes direct high-level talks with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.|
|Spoke against war at start, opposed troop increase. Voted against one major military spending bill in May 2007; otherwise voted in favor of money to support the war. Says his plan would complete withdrawal of combat troops in 16 months.||Iraq||Opposes scheduling a troop withdrawal, saying latest strategy is succeeding. Supported decision to go to war, but was early critic of the manner in which administration prosecuted it. Was key backer of the troop increase. Willing to have permanent U.S. peacekeeping forces in Iraq.|
|Would raise payroll tax on wealthiest by applying it to portion of income over $250,000. Now, payroll tax is applied to income up to $102,000. Rules out raising the retirement age for benefits.||Social Security||"NothingÍs off the table" when it comes to saving Social Security.|
|Raise income taxes on wealthiest and their capital gains and dividends taxes. Raise corporate taxes. $80-billion in tax breaks mainly for workers and elderly, including tripling Earned Income Tax Credit for minimum-wage workers and higher credit for larger families. Eliminate tax-filing requirement for older workers making under $50,000. A mortgage-interest credit could be used by lower-income homeowners who do not take the mortgage-interest deduction because they do not itemize their taxes.||Taxes||Pledged not to raise taxes, then equivocated, saying nothing can be ruled out in negotiating compromises to keep Social Security solvent. Twice opposed BushÍs tax cuts, at first because he said they were tilted to the wealthiest and again because of the unknown costs of Iraq war. Now says those tax cuts, expiring in 2010, should be permanent. Proposes cutting corporate tax rate to 25 percent. Promises balance budget in first term, says that is unlikely in his first year.|
|Seek to reopen North American Free Trade Agreement to strengthen enforcement of labor and environmental standards. In 2004 Senate campaign, called for "enforcing existing trade agreements," not amending them.||Trade||Free trade advocate.|