McCain officials deny racism allegations

July 31, 2008 7:58:39 AM PDT
Sen. John McCain never mentions Sen. Barack Obama's race except to acknowledge and salute the historic nature of his candidacy as the first African-American presumptive presidential nominee of a major party, and even that happens rarely. He just prefers not to go there. So when Obama seemed to suggest Wednesday that the McCain campaign was preparing to make an issue of his Muslim middle name and race, some McCain insiders were livid.

Obama said: "Nobody thinks that Bush or McCain have a real answer for the challenges we face. So what they are going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all of those other presidents on the dollar bills."

The McCain campaign fumed silently before responding.

"This is a typically superfluous response from Barack Obama," said McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds. "Like most celebrities, he reacts to fair criticism with a mix of fussiness and hysteria."

The Obama campaign later denied that Obama was referring to the McCain campaign. It said it meant opponents generally and right-wing radio commentators specifically. The McCain campaign scoffed at that explanation.

According to a June 20 Reuters wire service story, Obama said much the same thing at a Florida fundraiser.

"They're going to try to make you afraid of me," Obama said. "He's young and inexperienced and he's got a funny name. And did I mention he's black?"

One reason for the McCain campaign's indignation over Obama's comments on Wednesday might be because McCain himself was the victim of a nasty racial smear when he ran for president in 2000.

In the days before the 2000 South Carolina primary, opponents who were never identified spread rumors that McCain's adopted Bengladeshi daughter was his illegitimate black child. McCain lost that primary to George W. Bush and that defeat soon drove him out of the race.

Earlier this year, when racial controversy arose from supporters of McCain, he was quick to condemn those he blamed for fanning the flames.

At a campaign rally in Cincinnati, Bill Cunningham, a local conservative radio talk show host, referred scathingly and repeatedly to "Barack Hussein Obama" while he was warming up the crowd before McCain spoke.

Immediately after the event, McCain told reporters: "I absolutely repudiate such comments ... I will take responsibility -- it will never happen again. It will never happen again."

On another occasion, the North Carolina Republican Party planned to run a TV commercial linking Democratic gubernatorial candidates Richard Moore and Beverly Purdue with controversial comments made by Obama's longtime minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Although McCain was critical of Wright and Obama's association with him early on, he said he accepted Obama"s later disassociation from him and stopped mentioning Wright.

The McCain campaign is acutely sensitive to the suspicion of some African-Americans and Democrats that in the heat of a close race down the stretch it -- or supporters not affiliated with the campaign -- will play the race card, something akin to the Willie Horton ad of 1988.

McCain has vowed that his campaign will not do so. He has also said he will condemn anyone who acts in that way on his behalf.

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