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Advisor Axelrod admits Obama was referring to race

August 2, 2008 | 12:44 am

On Wednesday, campaigning in the state once known for the Missouri Compromise of 1820, Sen. Barack Obama, the Democrats' presumptive nominee for president, said about his Republican opponents:

"Nobody thinks that Bush and McCain have a real answer to the challenges we face. What they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. 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.' "

That last phrase was the spark that set off The two major party presidential candidates confer early this year, Illinois Democratic Senator Barack Obama and Arizona Republican Senator John McCainperhaps the most profound and potentially emotional and divisive disagreement of the general-election campaign so far. To many, the most obvious commonality among "those other presidents on the dollar bills" is not powdered wigs; it's their race: white.

Immediately, John McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, sharply rejected Obama's statement, saying the  Democrat had "played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck." Davis called Obama's remarks "divisive, negative, shameful and wrong."

With not much else going on in midsummer, the media pounced, and we had a full-scale flareup. On Thursday, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs denied Davis' accusation and said Obama was simply referring to the fact that he didn't come into the race with the history of others. "It is not about race," Gibbs claimed.

Obama has since called the race charge "a typical pattern" of the GOP campaign.

But now Obama's chief campaign strategist, David Axelrod, admits that the candidate was referring in part to his race when he suggested that the McCain campaign wants voters to fear Obama because he doesn't look like other presidents.

"He's not from central casting," Axelrod told a national TV audience Friday, "when it comes to candidates for president of the United States. He's new to Washington. Yes, he's African American."

Our blogging colleague Katie Fretland has more details on the ongoing controversy over here at the Swamp.

-- Andrew Malcolm

Photo credit: Newsday