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As World Series looms, John McCain questions Barack Obama's loyalties

October 21, 2008 | 10:21 am

Sports metaphors are ubiquitous in politics, so it’s fair to say John McCain threw one low and inside today –- attacking Barack Obama over baseball.

The issue is no small matter, given how both the 2008 presidential campaign and the 2008 major league season have evolved. The fast-approaching World Series pits the Tampa Bay Rays against the Philadelphia Phillies, much-beloved teams from two hotly contested battleground states that both campaigns are desperate to win.

So what’s a presidential candidate to do?

During the playoffs last week, Obama, a die-hard Chicago White Sox fan, said he was “going to have to root for Philly” because his campaign manager, David Plouffe, “is a fanatical Phillies fan, and I don’t want him mad at me for the next few weeks.”

But on Monday, several Rays players were featured prominently at an Obama rally in Tampa. Indeed, one of the team's newly minted stars introduced the Democrat to the crowd gathered at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Obama crowed that the backing from the players spoke to his credentials as a "unity" candidate. “So when you see a White Sox fan showing love to the Rays, and the Rays showing some love back, you know we are on to something right here,” he said.

McCain, a  fan of the Arizona Diamondbacks, saw an opportunity to swing for the fences and took it. Speaking to several hundred supporters in a Philadelphia suburb, the Republican called Obama's comments foul.

“I heard that Sen. Obama was showing some love to the Rays down in Tampa Bay yesterday,” he said, as the crowd happily booed.

“Now, I'm not dumb enough to get mixed up in a....

...World Series between swing states,” McCain added, to laughter and cheers. “But I think I may have detected a little pattern with Sen. Obama. It's pretty simple, really. When he's campaigning in Philadelphia, he roots for the Phillies, and when he's campaigning in Tampa Bay, he shows love to the Rays.”

Pivoting quickly, he launched into his stump speech. “It's kind of like the way he campaigns on tax cuts, but then votes for tax increases after he's elected," McCain said.

Obama aides took their turn at the plate.

Campaign spokesman Bill Burton said his boss “said nice things about the members" of the Rays who were endorsing him but “that doesn’t change his feelings about the fact that they bounced his White Sox out of the playoffs.”

Added Tommy Vietor, another campaign spokesman: "I guess these are the kinds of attacks you make when your campaign has conceded that if you talk about the economy, you'll lose."

Batter up!

-- Bob Drogin