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Obama strategist Axelrod warns John McCain on tonight's debate

October 7, 2008 |  3:18 pm

NASHVILLE –- According to Barack Obama's chief political strategist, the freshman Illinois senator is prepared for his GOP rival to “take the gloves off” at tonight’s debate here, continuing the ReChief Barack Obama political strategist David Axelrod holding up a wall in Chicagopublican's assault of recent days.

But David Axelrod says Obama will try to stay focused on the global economic crisis, not just any attacks by Sen. John McCain.

“We’re prepared for a very aggressive debate,” Axelrod told reporters aboard Obama’s plane today en route to Nashville from North Carolina.

Should the need arise, Axelrod said, taking off one glove as a preemptory warning himself, Obama will remind Americans during the debate here at Belmont University of the Arizona senator’s role in the “Keating 5” thrift scandal of the 1980s.

“The Keating case is pretty germane to the discussion we’re having right now,” Axelrod said. “The Keating issue was one.... which Sen. McCain intervened with regulators on behalf of a financial institution that ultimately collapsed, and taxpayers were left holding the bill.”

Axelrod also alleged that McCain was running virtually all negative TV advertising as the campaign enters its last four weeks.

“The American people know who’s running a positive campaign about the future of this country, about the change that we need, and who’s desperately throwing lefts and rights hoping to score a knockout, because he thinks he’s behind in the game,” the Chicago strategist said.

Axelrod also responded to McCain’s attacks on Obama for his relationship with William Ayers, a University of Illinois professor who in 1969 cofounded the radical Weathermen group that planted bombs in public buildings.

When Obama arrived on the Chicago political scene, “Ayers was advising Mayor Daley on school reform issues, and that was his profile, was that he was an expert on education issues,” Axelrod said.

During his 1995 state Senate run, Obama was unaware of Ayers’ background in terrorism when the professor and his wife, Weathermen cofounder Bernardine Dohrn, hosted a house party to introduce Obama to Democrats, Axelrod said.

“No one’s suggesting that he never knew,” but it was later that he found out about their history with the group, Axelrod said.

On the prospect for more back-and-forth on subjects like Ayers and Keating, Axelrod said it was inevitable.

“Listen, we’re running for president of the United States,” he said. “It’s a rough, tough pursuit, and there are lots of challenges associated with it. This is one of them.”

--Michael Finnegan

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Photo credit: Associated Press