By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 13, 2008
RICHMOND -- The chairman of the Virginia Republican Party has compared Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama to Osama bin Laden because of the Illinois senator's past association with Bill Ayers, who has confessed to domestic bombings as a member of the Vietnam War-era Weather Underground.
Virginia Democrats, and some Republicans, are outraged, saying these are the latest in a series of inflammatory statements that the GOP has made against Obama in Virginia, a state that has emerged as a crucial battleground in the election.
According to a report in this week's Time magazine, the Virginia party chairman, Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick (R-Prince William), told Virginia volunteers working for GOP nominee John McCain that Obama and bin Laden "both have friends that bombed the Pentagon."
"That is scary," Frederick said while providing talking points to GOP volunteers in western Prince William County as they prepared for a door-to-door canvass.
Several McCain surrogates have blasted Obama for his association with Ayers, but few, if any, have invoked bin Laden.
Yesterday, Frederick said he stood by the comparison, even though bin Laden planned the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon that killed 184 people and Obama was a child and hadn't met Ayers when the Weather Underground planted a bomb at the Pentagon in 1972. No one was hurt in that blast, in which a bomb exploded in a restroom and caused flooding and damage to computer tapes containing classified information.
Ayers did not participate in the bombing at the Pentagon but admitted to involvement in other blasts. He is now a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a community activist who lives in Obama's Chicago neighborhood. Obama has said they have had cursory interactions over the years, including serving on the same board.
Clark Stevens, an Obama spokesman, said Frederick's attack on Obama's relationship with Ayers "has been discredited and debunked time and again."
"The Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, like so many McCain supporters," Stevens said, "would rather lie about Barack Obama than make the case to the American people why Senator McCain's plans of continuing Bush's policies for another four years would be good for American families."
Gail Gitcho, a McCain spokeswoman, also denounced Frederick's remarks, calling them "not appropriate."
"While Barack Obama is associated with domestic terrorist William Ayers, the McCain campaign disagrees with the comparison that Jeff Frederick made," Gitcho said.
It was the third time in a little more than a week that Gitcho repudiated something said or written by someone affiliated with McCain's Virginia leadership team. Last week, the head of the McCain campaign in Buchanan County in southwest Virginia was forced to resign after a column surfaced in which he made disparaging remarks about Obama, African Americans and gay people. Last weekend, the McCain campaign distanced itself from McCain's brother, Joe McCain, after he referred to Alexandria and Arlington County as "communist country."
Joe McCain apologized, saying he was trying to make a joke. But Frederick is not sorry.
"It is just the hard facts. It's terrible that it can be said, but it can," Frederick said. "It's shocking. Here is a guy who is one step away from the presidency, who is one step away from being commander in chief, who has a friend who bombed the Pentagon. It's just shocking to me." He added, "And there is no denying that Osama bin Laden had a role in bombing the Pentagon."
Ayers once hosted a gathering for Obama when the candidate first ran for the Illinois state Senate in 1995. The two also served together on a nonprofit board that distributed educational grants in the city.
Obama has denounced Ayers's actions in the 1960s and 1970s and describes him as "a guy who lives in my neighborhood."
The independent group PolitiFact.com has called the GOP attacks on Obama for serving on the same board as Ayers "malicious."
"It unfairly tars not just Obama, but all the other prominent, well-respected Chicagoans who also volunteered their time to the foundation," PolitiFact wrote.
James E. Hyland, chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee, said he thinks that the GOP efforts to link Obama to Ayers could backfire.
"I don't think the associations with Ayers is going to work in Fairfax," Hyland said. "What we are looking for up here is answers on the economy, experience and impact of [McCain's and Obama's] policies on the federal workforce."
But Frederick said he will continue to speak about Obama's ties to Ayers. "This man simply is not ready to lead," Frederick said of Obama.