As Palin Brings Up Ayers, Obama Team Cites Keating

Sen. John McCain at a Senate Ethics Committee hearing in 1990 on improper political influence.
Sen. John McCain at a Senate Ethics Committee hearing in 1990 on improper political influence. (By John Duricka -- Associated Press)
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By Anne E. Kornblut and Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama for the first time criticized Sen. John McCain for his role in the "Keating Five" savings-and-loan scandal yesterday, saying the issue is fair game after a weekend of attacks by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin over the Democrat's ties to Vietnam War-era radical William Ayers.

Attempting to link the early-1990s scandal to the current economic crisis, the Obama campaign launched a Web site devoted to "Keating Economics," including a documentary-style video of McCain's involvement and news clips of his Senate testimony. The campaign also sent an e-mail to millions of supporters arguing that then, as now, the Republican lacks judgment on financial oversight during a crisis.

"With so many parallels to the current crisis, McCain's Keating history is relevant and voters deserve to know the facts -- and see for themselves the pattern of poor judgment by John McCain," Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, wrote in the e-mail.

At his own campaign event hours later, McCain sharply questioned Obama's character and intentions, telling a crowd in New Mexico that "even at this late hour in the campaign, there are essential things we don't know about Senator Obama or the record that he brings to this campaign."

"All people want to know is: What has this man ever actually accomplished in government? What does he plan for America?" McCain said. "In short: Who is the real Barack Obama?"

The back-and-forth, coming on the eve of a presidential debate tonight, represented some of the strongest language yet in a race that has grown increasingly negative and signaled that the final four weeks of the campaign could grow even nastier.

McCain senior adviser Nicolle Wallace defended Palin, dismissing the suggestion that the vice presidential nominee was overstating the relationship between the two men when she accused Obama of palling around with a former terrorist.

Ayers was a member of the Weather Underground, a group that carried out several domestic bombings when Obama was a child. Obama has denounced the actions of Ayers, who went on to become a university professor and education advocate in Chicago.

Wallace said the issue is Obama's "dishonest explanation" of his relationship with Ayers, whom he once described as just a "guy who lives in my neighborhood." She noted that Ayers once hosted an event for Obama early in his political career and served with him on a community foundation board.

Palin kept up her attacks on Obama and Ayers at stops in Florida, saying, "This is about the truthfulness and judgment needed in our next president, and Barack Obama doesn't have it."

Raising the Keating scandal fulfilled a promise by the Obama campaign to revive the matter if it felt the McCain campaign ventured too far down the path of personal attacks.

Obama aides also said the current financial meltdown brought fresh currency to the savings-and-loan scandal, elevating it above an ordinary guilt-by-association charge. The collapse of Charles Keating's thrift cost taxpayers billions and required a large government bailout package.

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