BOULDER, Colo. — Tom Meaden takes a drag on his cigarette and considers how a President Barack Obama or John McCain would handle the crisis in Georgia.
"I don't think I'm comfortable with either of those clowns," he said.
Other voters in this swing state were not that blunt. But when many spoke this week about the two likely contenders for the presidency, they said that the candidates' reaction to the Russian aggression reinforces their views of each man.
Sometimes that works in the candidates' favor.
"McCain would come across to Russia as a stronger person, someone with opinions they would listen to," said Sally Whittaker, a clothing store manager.
But Bill Butler, a retiree, thought Obama's measured approach to diplomacy is perfect for the times.
"He has already formed in effect a shadow Cabinet," Butler said. "He has shown he listens to people, and he has an ability to synthesize opinion."
But to others, the crisis is a reminder that Obama is a first-term U.S. senator with no diplomatic background, while McCain may have a longer resume, but also more of a taste for military action.
Both candidates have been measured in their responses.
McCain spoke Tuesday with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. "I told him that I know I speak for every American when I said to him, 'Today, we are all Georgians.'"
The presumptive Republican nominee also talked tough about Russia, saying that nation's leaders have to understand that because of the invasion, they risk "the benefits they enjoy from being part of the civilized world."
McCain earlier this week called for an emergency session of NATO's executive council, and he wants Western nations to urge a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an end to the conflict, a position Obama shares.
Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has also condemned Russia. "There is no possible justification for these attacks," he said, and urged Russia to stop its campaign. He also urged the world to condemn the aggression.
Most voters throughout the eastern, more urban part of this state Monday and Tuesday were unaware of the details of the Obama and McCain statements, though they were familiar with the Russian campaign.
To most people, the Russian action just added another element of uncertainty to what already is a difficult vote in November.
"I don't see how either McCain or Obama has the experience to deal with this," said Rex Snell, a Lakewood machinist.
"Obama doesn't know what he's talking about, but I worry that McCain is too old," added Alonzo Abeyta, a Walsenburg retiree. "And just because someone was in a war doesn't mean they'll make a good president."
The crisis appears to have the potential to wound Obama more than McCain, because voter concern about his lack of experience in foreign affairs has been a refrain across the country.
Obama loyalists insist his resume is not a problem, that Russia's bold move is an example of that country trying to take advantage of a weakened United States led by a Republican president.
"If anything, this could hurt McCain," said Democratic political consultant Dorothy Rupert. "Didn't we promise we'd help countries like Georgia?"
But others reckoned that undecided voters could see the invasion as one more reason to raise doubts about Obama.
"McCain gave his usual knee-jerk response, full of testosterone, and maybe Obama showed some people he is not as seasoned on foreign policy," said Barbara Connors, an Erie non-profit manager. "But what Obama has going for him is that he's thoughtful."
That may not be enough for Whittaker, the clothing store manager, who calls herself an independent-leaning Democrat.
"In the Russians' view, they'll see Obama as Mr. Popularity, telling them what to do. They may listen to McCain," she said.
Exactly, said Meaden.
"McCain has a history in the military," he said. "Obama has no history on foreign policy, and no military history."
McClatchy Newspapers 2008