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2008 hopefuls tout experience on world stage

As Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama arm wrestle over which of them would do a better job as president on the world stage, they are tussling over the value of experience.
/ Source: National Journal

As Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama arm wrestle over which of them would do a better job as president on the world stage, they are tussling over the value of experience.

Presumably, voters are looking for a president who could give the hairy eyeball to a menacing leader but could also charm a strongman into backing down.

We wondered: Would it help if the candidate had gone head-to-head with leaders of countries before?

McCain talked policy with Musharraf. Biden sat down with Kadafi. Richardson's list includes Castro and Saddam. With which world leaders have the White House candidates connected?

In the past, some candidates have struggled to convince voters that they could handle world leaders.

Democrat Michael Dukakis, then a governor, announced frequently during his 1988 bid that he had met with the president of Costa Rica. Reporters began to snicker.

In the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush couldn't name the leaders of Pakistan, India or Chechnya. He brushed it off.

Opening the Rolodex
John Kerry, on the other hand, knew so many foreign leaders that he boasted a few of them wanted him to win in 2004. Some voters suspected he was talking about the French -- which was not particularly helpful to his campaign. And even a pro on the world stage can stumble. Remember the peck on the cheek Hillary Clinton gave Yasser Arafat's wife, much to her later regret?

Presidential historian Richard Reeves, who has written biographies of former Presidents John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, said "personal relationships between leaders are tremendously important" and argued that the chemistry between Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev was crucial in ending the Cold War. But for most presidents, he added, "It doesn't matter if they met [the leaders] before they became president. It's how they handle relationships when they get there."

Still, some will argue that going toe-to-toe with a prime minister or generalissimo adds heft to any resume. So we asked all of candidates which heads of state they've met with and whether the meetings were substantive or ceremonial. Those with long years in Washington responded with pride.

Contenders' world travels
In her eight years as first lady, Clinton built an impressive global track record. She met with more than 60 foreign leaders, often solo, and often to discuss policy. Collectively, the senators in the race have spoken with nearly every leader on the planet. Joseph Biden has talked to roughly 105 heads of state in his 35 years in office. Christopher Dodd has chatted up at least 97. John McCain only listed the leaders with whom he's met in the last couple of years: 32.

Rudy Giuliani remembers meeting with roughly 28 leaders of foreign countries, most while he was mayor of New York City. Mitt Romney held talks with seven heads of state during and since his term as Massachusetts governor. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a former diplomatic troubleshooter, has met with at least 33 leaders -- including some tough customers, such as Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein.

In his two and a half years in Washington, Obama has met with 15 heads of state. Republican iconoclast Ron Paul, who doesn't care much for traditional benchmarks, has met with just one.