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'Race card' dealt by Barack Obama, a John McCain aide charges

July 31, 2008 | 10:31 am

Perhaps it's the summer heat. Whatever, the churlish aura increasingly enveloping the presidential campaign showed no sign of abating today.

The cause celebre of the moment involves a comment Barack Obama made Wednesday as he campaigned in Missouri. As John McCain's campaign unveiled its fourth straight attack ad -- the "Celebs" spot that lumps Obama with lightweight (and scandal-plagued) favorites of the paparazzi Paris Hilton and Britney Spears -- the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee had this to say (as related in a Times campaign story):

"The only way they figure they're going to win this election is if they make you scared of me. 'He's new. He doesn't look like the other presidents on the dollar bills. He's got a funny name. . . .' The argument is that I'm too risky."

Obama has invoked the "doesn't look like other presidents" line in the past, but usually in a positive context -- as in, how his ability to attract support across various demographic groups signifies, among many voters, a "post-racial" approach to politics.

The context of the remark in Missouri, of course, was much different -- implying that the GOP was seeking to call attention to his biracial heritage.

The McCain forces today made clear they would have none of that. Campaign manager Rick Davis fired off a terse, two-sentence statement:

“Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It’s divisive, negative, shameful and wrong.”

Asked about his comment just moments ago on MSNBC, Davis stressed that he took great umbrage at Obama's inference that any aspect of the campaign's recent offensive against Obama had racial overtones.

Davis also was pressed by the cable network's Andrea Mitchell to defend the Obama-Hilton-Spears linkage. He insisted it was fair because all three have great name recognition and lots of fans. He added that "the really important thing" -- what the ad was attempting to drive home -- was that just because Obama is "a great celebrity doesn't mean he's ready to lead the country."

-- Don Frederick

[UPDATE: Here's the lengthy exchange on MSNBC between Davis and Mitchell, who as the interview proceeds struggles to get a word in edgewise against the fired-up campaign aide].

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