In a nasty spat in the US presidential election campaign, the Democratic candidate's background has openly become an issue, after John McCain's campaign accused Barack Obama of "playing the race card".
The White House contest between Barack Obama and John McCain took one of its nastiest lurches yet Thursday as the campaign air filled with accusations of race-baiting and gutter politics.
Top campaign issues such as the economy and the Iraq war took a back-seat, as the Republican McCain responded with fury to Obama's claims that his opponents would exploit his exotic name and appearance for electoral gain.
The Democrat in turn said McCain, his campaign reinforced by proteges of President George W. Bush's long-time aide Karl Rove, was stooping to the "low road" of politics with a slew of character attacks.
"Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It's divisive, negative, shameful and wrong," said McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis in a statement.
Asked if Davis's criticism was fair, McCain told CNN: "I'm sorry to say that it is. It's legitimate.
"There's no place in this campaign for that. There's no place for it and we shouldn't be doing it," the Arizona senator said at a stop in Wisconsin.
In Missouri on Wednesday, the African-American Obama had said McCain's campaign was mounting personal attacks against him to divert attention from what he said was a dearth of solutions to America's problems.
"You know, 'he's not patriotic enough, he's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills, you know, he's risky,'" Obama said, ridiculing supposed attacks against him.
In a statement Thursday, Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said the Democrat had not intended to suggest McCain was exploiting race as a means to undermine Obama's historic shot at the White House.
"This is a race about big challenges -- a slumping economy, a broken foreign policy, and an energy crisis for everyone but the oil companies," he said.
"Barack Obama in no way believes that the McCain campaign is using race as an issue, but he does believe they're using the same old low-road politics to distract voters from the real issues in this campaign."
The spat was the latest exchange in an ever-more toxic contest. It came a day after McCain's camp mocked Obama's celebrity by comparing him in a television ad to troubled pop culture icons Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.
The Obama campaign unveiled a new website dubbed "Low Road Express," playing off the name of McCain's "Straight Talk Express" bus, which it said would "fact-check" McCain's attacks.
"We think the tenor of his campaign is unlikely to change, that is what he is offering voters, increasingly harsh character attacks, personal attacks while people are out there struggling every day," said Obama's campaign manager David Plouffe.
"I think voters did expect different from John McCain, it is clear what they are going to be offering the American people over the next 96 days, selling voters short."
However, polls suggested that McCain was making some inroads in his drive to portray Obama as a liberal elitist who is only at home in the adulation of devoted crowds.
The latest Gallup daily tracking poll said a small bounce enjoyed by Obama since his much-hyped foreign tour last week had evaporated. It said Obama had 45 percent to McCain's 44, a statistical dead heat.
McCain meanwhile is gaining on the Illinois senator in the pivotal swing states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to new Quinnipiac University polls.
In a CNN/Opinion Research poll late Wednesday, 40 percent of respondents said McCain was attacking Obama unfairly. But 44 percent also felt the Democrat was acting as if he has already won November's election.
McCain campaign adviser Nicolle Wallace was unapologetic about the Spears-Hilton ad, which came after the Republican had said Obama would rather lose the war in Iraq than lose the election.
"If you came out here with us, you'd see that we have supportive crowds who really ask us about the issues," she told MSNBC television.
"They ask us about the economy. They want to talk about our plans for keeping the country safe. And that's the campaign we're running."
Date created : 2008-08-01