Obama accuses McCain of smear try

GOP defends its tactics amid slide in polls

NATI HARNIK/ASSOCIATED PRESSThe GOP's emphasis on character started Saturday when Sarah Palin accused Obama of ''palling around with terrorists.'' She greeted supporters yesterday after a rally in Omaha. NATI HARNIK/ASSOCIATED PRESSThe GOP's emphasis on character started Saturday when Sarah Palin accused Obama of ''palling around with terrorists.'' She greeted supporters yesterday after a rally in Omaha. (NATI HARNIK/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
By Mark Egan
Reuters / October 6, 2008
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Democrat Barack Obama launched a counterattack yesterday, saying his rival was more interested in a smear campaign than fixing the economy. But John McCain's supporters said they would continue to push the issue of Obama's character.

With McCain losing ground in opinion polls, campaign strategist Greg Strimple was recently quoted as saying the Republican presidential candidate needed to "turn the page" on the economic issue and make the election about Obama's experience and judgment.

Republicans defended the tactic on talk shows yesterday. "It's appropriate to talk about Barack Obama's judgment," Senator Mel Martinez of Florida said on ABC News's "This Week."

The GOP's new emphasis on character issues started Saturday when the Republican vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, accused Obama of "palling around with terrorists." She was referring to his acquaintance with Bill Ayers, a former Vietnam War-era militant.

Obama responded to the Republicans at a rally yesterday attended by more than 20,000 people in Asheville, N.C., a swing state where the Democratic presidential candidate was preparing for his second debate with McCain tomorrow.

"Senator McCain and his operatives are gambling that he can distract you with smears rather than talk to you about substance," Obama said. "They'd rather try to tear our campaign down than lift this country up."

"It's what you do when you're out of touch, out of ideas and running out of time," he said.

The Obama campaign also released a new ad criticizing McCain as erratic during the economic crisis of the past two weeks.

"The last four weeks of this election will be about whether the American people are willing to turn our economy and national security over to Barack Obama, a man with little record, questionable judgment, and ties to radical figures like unrepentant domestic terrorist William Ayers," McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said.

Ayers was one of the leaders of the Weather Underground when it was involved in a series of bombings nearly 40 years ago, when Obama was 8 years old. Obama met him in the 1990s when first starting his political career in Chicago.

Ayers, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, donated $200 in 2001 to Obama's campaign for the Illinois state Senate and served with him from 1999 to 2002 on the Woods Fund, an antipoverty group. Obama has said he knows Ayers only slightly and has denounced his militant actions.

In his ABC interview, Martinez said it was not what Obama did when he was 8 but "what occurred when he was 35 to 38 years old and was initiating his political campaign. . . . It's about his judgment and who he associated with during those years and right on into his political campaign."

Senator Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, defended McCain against accusations that he was erratic during the crafting of the economic bailout plan. "I think you saw Senator McCain, unlike Senator Obama, come off the campaign trail, because that's John McCain in the middle of a crisis," Lieberman said on "Fox News Sunday."

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