Hours before Democrat Barack Obama's 30-minute paid political ad was to run on network television, Republican John McCain tried Wednesday to create controversy about his presidential rival's connections to a Palestinian scholar and compared Obama to George McGovern and Jimmy Carter.
Obama aides accused McCain of hypocrisy. They noted that the International Republican Institute, which McCain has long chaired, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to a Palestinian research organization in the 1990s that the same scholar, Rashid Khalidi, helped found.
Obama didn't address the controversy directly at a midday rally in North Carolina. But he told voters that by week's end McCain will "be accusing me of being a secret Communist because I shared my toys in kindergarten." He charged that McCain - who is behind in the polls - was desperate, and that "if my opponent is elected, you will be worse off four years from now than you are today."
In radio interviews while campaigning in Florida, which has a large Jewish voting population, McCain accused the Los Angeles Times of media bias for declining to release a video it obtained of Obama attending a 2003 going away party in Chicago for Khalidi. Khalidi is a Palestinian rights advocate and critic of Israel. A former University of Chicago professor, he was leaving for a job as a professor at Columbia University in New York.
At the party, which the Times wrote about last April, Obama praised Khalidi and vice versa. But Khalidi also told the Times in that story that he disagreed with Obama's pro-Israel views.
"I'm not in the business about talking about media bias," McCain said on Radio Mambi, a Spanish-language station in Miami. "But what if there was a tape with John McCain in a neo-Nazi outfit being held by some media outlet? I think the treatment of the issue would be slightly different."
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt accused McCain of using a "recycled, manufactured controversy" to distract voters. LaBolt said Khalidi is not an adviser to Obama or his campaign and that Obama "does not share Khalidi's views." He said Obama had been "clear and consistent on his support for Israel."
Obama was headed to Florida later in the day for two events. One is to be part of his 30-minute paid infomercial. In the other, Obama and former President Clinton will campaign together.
While Florida elected President Bush twice and had been considered safely Republican before the economic crisis, that's changed with housing foreclosures and concerns about seniors' retirement savings. An Obama win in the state could cost McCain the presidency.
The Huffington Post first posted tax returns showing donations from IRI under McCain's leadership in the 1990s to Khalidi's group, Center for Palestine Research and Studies.
In an interview with La Kalle, another Spanish-language station in Miami, McCain reiterated his concerns about Khalidi.
Asked about Obama's plans to raise taxes on the wealthy and give families earning less than $250,000 a tax cut, McCain said, "I won't call him a socialist. It doesn't matter what we call him. The point is, what he wants to do. And that has been tried before. That's what George McGovern wanted to do. That's what Jimmy Carter did, and we're not going to do it."
McCain repeatedly suggested in his radio interviews the presence of another controversial Obama acquaintance at the Khalidi farewell party: Bill Ayers.
For weeks, McCain has sought to damage Obama by linking him to Ayers, a Chicago education professor and former member of the violent anti-Vietnam group called the Weather Underground, which was active when Obama was a child. The friendship between the two appears to consist of Ayers holding a meet-the-candidate event for Obama more than a dozen years ago and the two having been active on boards of local charities, some funded by Republicans.
It wasn't immediately clear whether Ayers attended the event. The Obama campaign didn't answer the question, and McCain adviser Mark Salter acknowledged that it wasn't clear. The McCain camp pointed simply to a 2005 New York Sun article saying that Ayers had praised Khalidi in a farewell book made for him.
Obama told supporters it was important that they turn out to the polls in the face of McCain's attacks. "Don't believe for a second this election is over," he said.