McCain defends Obama
John McCain on Friday moved to calm rising anger among his supporters at rival Barack Obama, describing him as a "decent person and a person...
COLUMBUS, Ohio — John McCain on Friday moved to calm rising anger among his supporters at rival Barack Obama, describing him as a "decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States."
McCain was booed after the conciliatory words about his Democratic foe.
The move by McCain at a town-hall meeting in Lakeville, Minn., came after days of rising tensions as the Republican presidential candidate and his campaign repeatedly attacked Obama as a friend of a 1960s radical they call a terrorist.
Growing angry about Obama's increasing lead in polls, supporters of McCain and running mate Sarah Palin have responded with loud cries of "terrorist" and "traitor."
At one rally this week in New Mexico, McCain winced when his mention of Obama's name was greeted by the shout of "terrorist," but the candidate said nothing.
Supporters at Friday's town-hall meeting pressed McCain to get tougher on Obama.
But when one man said he was scared to raise his unborn child in a country that might be led by a President Obama, McCain disagreed.
"I have to tell you, he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States," McCain said to boos and groans from supporters.
"If you want a fight, we will fight," McCain said. "But we will be respectful. I admire Senator Obama and his accomplishments. ... I don't mean that has to reduce your ferocity; I just mean to say you have to be respectful."
At one point, McCain grabbed the microphone from a woman who had begun to say she didn't like Obama because he is an Arab. "No, ma'am. No, ma'am," McCain said. "He's a decent family man, a citizen who I just happen to have serious differences with on fundamental questions."
His comments came a day after an angry Wisconsin crowd shouted epithets about Obama, pumped fists angrily and catcalled repeatedly when Obama's name was mentioned. Outside, many flipped their middle finger at a media bus.
McCain was less conciliatory at that rally. When a visibly angry supporter in Waukesha told McCain "I'm really mad" because of "socialists taking over the country," McCain stoked the sentiment. "I think I got the message," he said. "The gentleman is right."
Campaigning in Ohio on Friday, Obama defended his character against the attacks, daring McCain to run as negatively as he wants while predicting that, in light of the financial crisis, "it will not work."
Both candidates responded to the stock-market meltdown with new proposals. McCain, in Wisconsin, suggested waiving a tax rule requiring that investors begin selling off their IRAs and 401(k)s when they turn 70 1/2. Obama, in Ohio, pitched temporarily lifting lending fees and extending fixed-rate loans to small businesses through a Small Business Administration disaster-relief fund.
But the personal nature of the campaign overshadowed those developments.
"We know what's coming, we know what they're going to do," Obama told supporters in Ohio.
While McCain tried to quiet the boos Friday, his allies and advertising unleashed a flurry of attacks on his rival's ethics, touting Obama's ties to Vietnam War-era radical Bill Ayers.
McCain's campaign released a national TV ad that asserts Obama worked with a "terrorist" when it was politically convenient and then lied about their relationship.
Ayers, now a professor of education at the University of Illinois, Chicago, hosted a 1995 candidate event for Obama and was involved with two mainstream charitable groups in which Obama also had been active. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has praised Ayers as a leading citizen who helped shape the city's innovative schools program.
In the late 1960s and early '70s, when Obama was a child, Ayers belonged to the Weathermen, a radical anti-war group that advocated violence and placed bombs at the Pentagon and the Capitol.
McCain's accusation is that Obama understated what he knew about Ayers' past or his beliefs when it suited him. There's no evidence that the two men are close or that Ayers has any connection to Obama's presidential campaign.
The Secret Service, meanwhile, confirmed Friday that it had investigated an episode in which someone in Palin's crowd in Clearwater, Fla., on Monday reportedly shouted "kill him," meaning Obama. There was "no indication that there was anything directed at Obama," Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren said.
Information from The Washington Post and The Associated Press is included in this report.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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