After clashing with a civil rights icon, John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, has become embroiled in a war of words with racial undertones. The campaign of the senator of Arizona has been accused by John Lewis (photo) of “sowing hatred” against his rival Barack Obama. He added that he was reminded of 1960 segregationist George Wallace.
The reference was called “beyond the pale” by Mr McCain, who recently said that Mr Lewis was one of his most admired Americans.
On Friday, Mr McCain has also tried to cool his supporters’ resentment of Mr Obama. In Minnesota, he defended his Democratic rival, after some of the town hall meeting labelled him a “terrorist”, “an Arab”, a “traitor” and a candidate who inspired fear.
It is another bad news for the Republican campaign, after a legislative probe in Alaska found that Sarah Palin, his vice-presidential running mate and state governor, had abused power.
Ms Palin has again denied any wrongdoing in the affair, just three weeks ahead of the election.
Democratic Congressman Lewis, considered one of the key figures of the civil rights movement said : “Senator McCain and Governor Palin are playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all.”
He added that the “sowing of seeds of hatred and division” reminded him of Alabama Governor Wallace’s rhetoric in 1963, that was blamed for a church bomb attack that killed four young girls.
‘Brazen and baseless attack’
Mr McCain reacted angrily, calling the reference “shocking and beyond the pale”.
“I am saddened that John Lewis, a man I’ve always admired, would make such a brazen and baseless attack on my character”, he said.
Later, Mr Lewis said that his reference was not a direct one, but was simply pointing out that “toxic language can lead to destructive behaviour”.
The civil rights icon also welcomed the Republican candidate’s attempts to cool angry supporters at his rallies.
During the Minnesota meeting, senator McCain said that his Democratic rival was a decent family man and that voters should not be afraid of him, but drew boos for defending him.
The Obama campaign quickly said it did not believe Mr McCain’s campaign was in any way comparable to Wallace.
A ‘pro-abortion radical’
Last week, through Ms Palin, the McCain campaign has targeted Mr Obama over his alleged links to 1960s militant William Ayers. The Alaska governor said Mr Obama was “palling around with terrorists”.
On Saturday, she defended herself against the findings of the Alaskan investigation.
It found that by allowing her husband to put pressure on officials in order to sack her former brother-in-law, a state trooper who was in a bitter custody battle with her sister, Ms Palin had abused her power.
In Pennsylvania, a journalist asked her if the accusations were correct, Ms Palin answered : “No, and if you read the report you will see that there was nothing unlawful or unethical about it.”
The report says that Ms Palin failed to act to stop her husband contacting the officials in the case known as Troopergate.
On Saturday, she stepped up her attacks on Mr Obama, calling him a pro-abortion radical.
“He hopes you won’t notice how radical, absolutely radical, his ideas on this and his record is until it’s too late”, she said.