Barack Obama and John McCain have pledged a civil campaign, but a war of words erupted yesterday over McCain's suggestion that the terrorist group Hamas prefers Obama for president.
Obama, taking a tougher line with the presumptive Republican nominee, said McCain was trying to smear him and was "losing his bearings."
"This is offensive and I think it's disappointing, because John McCain always says, 'Well, I'm not going to run that kind of politics,' " Obama said in an interview yesterday with CNN.
"For him to toss out comments like that I think is an example of him losing his bearings as he pursues this nomination," the Democratic front-runner added.
The McCain campaign issued a strongly-worded response, arguing that by using the words "losing his bearings," it was "a not particularly clever way of raising John McCain's age as an issue." He turns 72 in August and, if elected, would be the oldest person to start a first term as president.
"This is typical of the Obama style of campaigning," said the memo from senior adviser Mark Salter. "We have all become familiar with Senator Obama's new brand of politics. First, you demand civility from your opponent, then you attack him, distort his record, and send out surrogates to question his integrity. It is called hypocrisy, and it is the oldest kind of politics there is."
Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton, in turn, responded: "Clearly losing one's bearings has no relation to age, given this bizarre rant that Mark Salter just sent out."
The blow-up stems from a comment by Hamas political adviser Ahmed Yousef, who in an interview with WABC Radio last month said that Hamas likes Obama's foreign policy vision.
Last month, McCain told conservative bloggers, "I think it's very clear who Hamas wants to be the next president of the United States. I think that people should understand that I will be Hamas's worst nightmare. . . . If Senator Obama is favored by Hamas, I think people can make judgments accordingly."
Obama, however, has repeatedly denounced Hamas as a terrorist group and said yesterday that his policy on Hamas is "no different" than McCain's.