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Obama takes show onto global stage

His foreign-policy credentials will likely be tested as he travels abroad.

Leaving home: Sen. Barack Obama hopes to prove he is capable of serving as the country's commander in chief during his trip overseas in late July.

john sommers II/reuters

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Barack Obama is about to embark on high-profile foreign travel that could have a powerful influence on how US voters judge his ability to act as the nation's commander in chief.

The question is, what sort of presumptive Democratic candidate will his domestic audience see? Will it be someone reminiscent of John F. Kennedy – cool, articulate, and the center of cheering foreign crowds?

Or will it be a traveler more like candidate Jimmy Carter – an inexperienced, provincial politician on a learning tour?

For the Illinois senator, the inherent risks in his travel are intensified by the fact that he will visit the Middle East, a place where, for American politicians, every word counts and the smallest misstep can become a huge gaffe.

"For Obama this trip is essential," says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. "If anything trips him up, other than race, it is going to be his lack of foreign experience."

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