With every twist and turn in the prolonged "primary circus" grabbing media attention, critics have accused the 2008 campaign of being long on personality and short on policy debate. Here’s a look at the issues confronting the candidates and where they stand.
As his official Web site carefully states, Obama "understands that abortion is a divisive issue." But the site categorically states that the Democratic candidate is a "consistent champion" of reproductive choice.
Upholds the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade case that legalized abortion in the USA.
Is committed to appointing judges who will not overturn Roe v Wade.
Proposes to send 2 additional brigades. Also proposes an additional $1 billion in nonmilitary assistance annually.
Maintains that he will press on Pakistan to crackdown on militancy in the tribal zones. "We must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets."
As the financial crisis worsened in early Sept. 2008, polls showed McCain’s edge over Obama slipping as more Americans believed the Democratic candidate was better placed to handle the crisis.
Obama was quick to fault McCain’s stated economic "philosophy" that regulations were "unnecessary."
Pledges to provide a tax cut for working families and to simplify tax filings for middle class Americans.
Promises to repeal Bush tax cuts for affluent rich households earning more than $250,000 per year.
Energy & Environment
Initially opposed lifting federal restrictions on offshore drilling, but has since backtracked. Now supports "a process that will allow us to make future drilling decisions based on science and fact."
Opposes energy exploration in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska.
Opposed McCain’s summer gas-tax holiday proposal.
Puts his environmental platform high on his policy agenda. Promises to re-engage with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) -- the main international forum dedicated to addressing the problem. Also promises to create a Global Energy Forum of the world’s largest emitters to focus on the issue.
Proposes an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Cap-and-trade involves providing economic incentives for reductions in the emissions of pollutants.
Platform based on "securing America and restoring America’s standing in the international community."
Supports "tough, direct presidential diplomacy …without preconditions" with Iran.
Supports a strong US-Israeli partnership, Israel’s right to self-defence and US foreign assistance to Israel.
Supports two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Obama and running mate Sen. Joe Biden are co-sponsors of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, which outlaws direct assistance to any entity controlled by Hamas
Guns/ Second Amendment
Has supported banning sale or transfer of semi automatic firearms, increasing state restrictions on purchase of firearms.
Sponsored a 2000 bill limiting handgun purchases to one per month. Rated "F" ("true enemy of gun owners’ rights") by National Rifle Association (NRA).
Supports "additional personnel, infrastructure and technology" on US border and ports of entry.
Supports Bush-backed immigration reform legislation, which provides a legal path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants
Opposed "dumb" Iraq war. Opposed Bush’s troop "surge" strategy.
Initially pledged to withdraw all combat troops within 16 months, but has since wriggled on commitment.
Backs phased withdrawal of US forces in Iraq.
Proposes immediate closure of Guantanamo Bay detention center.
Opposes torture, supports ban on water-boarding, but was not present for Feb. 2008 Senate vote on a bill to ban the practice.
Previously criticized USA Patriot Act, which expands authority of law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism. But voted to reauthorize it in 2006.
Has previously supported women’s reproductive choice, but has since backtracked. Believes the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that legalized abortion is a "flawed decision."
Promises to nominate judges "who understand that courts should not be in the business of legislating from the bench."
Running mate Sarah Palin has called herself "as pro-life as any candidate can be."
Proposes to send 3 additional brigades. Pledges to work on supporting local tribes in the Afghan-Pakistan border regions to fight the Taliban insurgency.
Before the Lehmann Brothers collapse and the era of government bailouts, McCain declared he was "always for less regulation." But the Republican candidate has since backtracked, saying he now favours stricter regulations.
While attempting to distance himself from Bush’s economic policies, McCain has gone on the economic offensive, accusing Obama of receiving campaign contributions from troubled mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Promises "pro-growth and competitive" taxes.
Pledges to keep Bush tax cuts, arguing that they encourage enterprise, which in turn drives economic growth. Pledges to cut corporate taxes from 35 to 25 percent.
Energie et environnement
Flip-flopped on offshore drilling for a while, now vigorously supports it and proposes incentives to states permitting offshore exploration.
McCain however opposes energy exploration in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska. But his running-mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, supports Arctic drilling - opening up the refuge was one of her 2006 gubernatorial campaign positions.
Proposed a summer gas-tax holiday due to rising fuel prices.
Frequently addresses the issue of climate change and supports the establishment of a "market-based system to curb greenhouse gas emissions." His running-mate Palin, however does not believe climate change is a man-made phenomenon.
Proposes a climate cap-and-trade mechanism would set a limit on greenhouse gas emissions and allow entities to buy and sell rights to emit. Cap-and-trade involves providing economic incentives for reductions in the emissions of pollutants.
The mechanism would allow the market to decide lowest-cost compliance options.
Platform based on preparing America to "prevail against any adversary on the field of battle" and "on the battleground of ideas."
Has twice mistakenly accused Iran of supporting al Qaeda, but has since retracted: "I am sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al Qaeda."
Supports Israel as a key US ally and Israel's right to self-defense "while terrorism remains the Palestinians' preferred bargaining tool."
Position on two-state solution on Israeli-Palestinian crisis unclear.
Believes right of citizens to bear arms as enshrined in the Second Amendment of the US Constitution is "fundamental".
Opposes gun manufacturer liability for crimes, restrictions on assault weapons and banning ammunition.
Supports tighter border security.
Co-sponsored Bush-backed immigration reform legislation, which provides a legal path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants.
Voted for 2003 Iraq invasion.
Backed Bush’s troop escalation. Has said US troops should stay until Iraq is able to defend itself.
Does not believe in setting a troop withdrawal timetable.
Proposes immediate closure of Guantanamo Bay detention center.
Vocal opponent of torture in detention. But voted against a 2008 bill seeking to ban water-boarding.
Voted to reauthorize USA Patriot Act in 2006.