By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
RICHMOND, Oct. 14 -- While Virginia's Republican leaders sought to distance themselves from him, the chairman of the state GOP said Tuesday that he was just making a joke when he compared Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama to Osama bin Laden.
Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick's remarks over the weekend that Obama and bin Laden "both have friends that bombed the Pentagon" generated national attention and forced GOP presidential nominee John McCain to publicly rebuke the head of his party in a crucial battleground state.
Frederick was referring to 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.
But in an interview Tuesday, Frederick said he was only repeating something he heard conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh say on his radio show. Frederick said he never meant to imply that Obama was a terrorist, but he believes the Democrat is unfit for office because of his connection to Ayers.
"The bottom line is I think you and me and most people we know don't hang out with people who have bombed the Pentagon," said Frederick, who questioned whether Obama will be able to get a security clearance because of his interactions with Ayers. "What makes people more nervous? The fact that I am quoting Rush Limbaugh or the fact we could have a president who could have these associations?"
Ayers admitted to several bombings during the 1960s and early 1970s but was never convicted. His organization planted a bomb in a Pentagon bathroom in 1972. No one was hurt in the blast, which caused flooding and damage to computer tapes containing classified information.
Ayers is a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a community activist who lives in Obama's Chicago neighborhood.
Obama has said he and Ayers had cursory contact over the years, including serving on the same board, but he has denounced Ayers's radical past.
Since Frederick's remarks were first reported in Time magazine, he has been deluged with "hate mail" from across the county, he said. There have also been calls for him to be removed as party chairman because some Republicans fear his remarks were so inflammatory they could drive people away from the Arizona senator.
"This Jeff Frederick stuff is a disgrace," said former delegate Vincent F. Callahan, a Republican from Fairfax County. "I don't know where he is coming from, but the party is going down the tubes with him at the helm."
At a news conference Tuesday, Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell and former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore, the GOP nominee for governor in 2005, said they do not think Frederick should be ousted as chairman. But they called his remarks about Obama and bin Laden "inappropriate."
"I think we need more civility in our political process," said McDonnell, the likely GOP nominee for governor next year. "I think we need to elevate the level of discourse."
But Kilgore and McDonnell, co-chairmen of McCain's Virginia campaign, launched a new offensive against Obama as the fight for Virginia's 13 electoral votes intensifies.
Citing Obama's voting record in the Illinois legislature, McDonnell and Kilgore accused Obama of being too lenient on child sex predators, pornographers, gang members and people accused of domestic violence.
They said Obama failed to support bills to restrict adult book stores near schools, to equip school computers with filters and prohibit child sex offenders from living within 500 feet of a school or playground. They also said Obama failed to support bills requiring mandatory jail stays for domestic batterers and longer jail sentences for people convicted of gang-related crimes.
"Barack Obama is simply wrong on the crime issue," Kilgore said. "He has instinctually failed to stand up for law-abiding citizens and our law enforcement community."
Virginia Democrats quickly fired back. In a conference call organized by the Obama campaign, Virginia Democratic Party Chairman C. Richard Cranwell and state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds accused Kilgore and McDonnell of distorting Obama's record to shift focus away from the economy.
"What they go after time and again is the politics of the lowest common denominator, and that is the politics of fear," said Deeds (Bath), a candidate for governor next year. "Now they are trying to scare people that Barack Obama is going to be soft on crime."