McCain Moves to Soften the Tone at Rallies, if Not in Ads

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 11, 2008

LAKEVILLE, Minn., Oct. 10 -- At the end of perhaps the most charged and negative week of the presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain sought to tone down his rhetoric toward Sen. Barack Obama even as his running mate, allies and his own advertising continued to attack the character of the Democratic nominee.

On Friday, McCain urged a crowd of skeptical supporters at a town hall forum in this Minneapolis suburb to be respectful of his rival for the presidency despite their deep policy differences with Obama.

The Republican nominee drew a cascade of boos from the crowd when he called Obama "a decent person" and told an expectant father that he does not have to be scared if he is president of the United States.

"We want to fight and I want to fight, but we will be respectful," McCain said, again prompting loud boos when he declared that he admires Obama's accomplishments. "I want everyone to be respectful, and let's be sure we are. . . . That doesn't mean you have to reduce your ferocity. It's just got to be respectful."

At one point in the event, McCain grabbed back the microphone from an elderly woman who had begun to say that she didn't like Obama because he is an Arab. "No, ma'am. No, ma'am," McCain said. "He's a decent family man, a citizen who I just happen to have serious differences with on fundamental questions."

His comments came a day after an angry crowd at a Wisconsin rally shouted epithets about the Democratic nominee, pumped their fists angrily in the air and catcalled repeatedly when Obama's name was mentioned. Several called him a "socialist," and many flipped their middle finger as a press bus drove by.

McCain appeared determined to respond Friday, saying that he respects Obama and only quieting the boos by saying that "if I didn't think I would be one heck of a better president, I wouldn't be running."

But throughout the day, McCain's allies and advertising unleashed a flurry of attacks on his rival's ethics, touting Obama's ties to a Vietnam War-era radical and accusing him of being connected to a group accused of engaging in voter fraud.

He launched a tough new television ad linking Obama to William Ayers, a founder of the Weather Underground, which bombed U.S. facilities in protest of the Vietnam War. The narrator in the ad says Obama "lied" about his relationship with Ayers and accuses the Democrat of "blind ambition, bad judgment."

Later, the McCain campaign hosted a conference call with John M. Murtagh, a target of a bombing linked to Ayers's group, in which Murtagh accused Obama of lying "about the nature and extent of that relationship."

At the town hall, McCain promised not to relent on tying Obama to Ayers, telling the crowd, "We'll be talking about that more."

Campaigning in Ohio, Obama accused McCain of "riling up a crowd by stoking anger and division" and said the negative campaigning will backfire. "They can run misleading ads. They can pursue the politics of anything goes. It will not work. Not this time," Obama said.

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