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McCain, Obama square off over racial politics

John McCain accused Barack Obama of playing politics with race on Thursday, raising the explosive issue after the first black candidate with a serious chance of winning the White House claimed Republicans will try to scare voters by saying he “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.”

world Updated: Aug 02, 2008 01:13 IST

John McCain accused Barack Obama of playing politics with race on Thursday, raising the explosive issue after the first black candidate with a serious chance of winning the White House claimed Republicans will try to scare voters by saying he “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.”

Until now, the subject of race has been almost taboo in the campaign, at least in public, with both sides fearing its destructive force.

“I’m disappointed that Senator Obama would say the things he’s saying,” McCain told reporters. The Arizona senator said he agreed with campaign manager Rick Davis’ statement earlier that “Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It’s divisive, negative, shameful and wrong.” The aide was suggesting McCain had been wrongfully accused.

In turn, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said, “We weren’t suggesting in any way he’s using race as an issue” but that McCain “is using the same, old low-road politics that voters are very unhappy about to distract voters from the real issues in this campaign.”

A day earlier and in response to a hard-hitting McCain commercial, Obama argued that President Bush and McCain have little to offer voters so Republicans will resort to a strategy of fear to keep the White House.

“What they’re going to try to do is make you scared of me,” Obama said. “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 the dollar bills.”

He didn’t explain the comment. But it evoked images of past presidents who grace US paper money, such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson and Ulysses S. Grant. All were white men, and all but Grant were older than Obama when elected.

Obama long has talked about his physical appearance in speeches, but McCain advisers argue he crossed a significant line by accusing the GOP of scare tactics and alluding to his own race in the same breath.

The back-and-forth was the latest spike in a contest that’s grown increasingly negative despite pledges by both Obama and McCain to run aboveboard campaigns. The daily rhetoric has turned red-hot as both manoeuvre for advantage and polls show the race competitive three months before the election.