- Barack Obama - John McCain - US election 2008 - USA
Democratic lawmaker John Lewis on Saturday said Republican White House contender John McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin were "sowing the seeds of hatred and division" with incendiary rhetoric against rival Barack Obama.
"As public figures with the power to influence and persuade, Senator McCain and (Alaska) Governor Palin are playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all," Lewis said in a statement on Politico.com a day after McCain tried to tone down his campaign's attacks against his rival.
Lewis, a US civil rights icon, said the Republicans "are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse."
He suggested the attacks on Obama were reminiscent of the late segregationist Alabama governor and presidential candidate George Wallace, whose fiery rhetoric in 1963 was blamed for a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, that killed four little girls.
"What I am seeing reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history," Lewis said.
"George Wallace never threw a bomb, he never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights.
"Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama."
McCain on Friday called on his backers to tone it down, after crowds at his rallies have become increasing inflammatory, shouting out "terrorist" and "liar" when Obama is mentioned. At one Florida rally, someone even shouted "kill him."
The Arizona senator said Lewis statement "represent a character attack against Governor Sarah Palin and me that is shocking and beyond the pale."
He said Lewis' comparison between criticism of Obama's record and Wallace's segregationist policies "unacceptable and has no place in this campaign."
McCain called on Obama "to immediately and personally repudiate these outrageous and divisive comments that are so clearly designed to shut down debate 24 days before the election."
Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said, in turn, that while the Illinois senator "does not believe" in the comparison, "Lewis was right to condemn some of the hateful rhetoric that John McCain himself personally rebuked."
Burton also called Palin's recent derisive comment -- "palling around with terrorists" -- about Obama's relation with 1960s radical Bill Ayers "baseless and profoundly irresponsible."