As the McCain campaign ratchets up the intensity of its attacks on Barack Obama, some black elected officials are calling the tactics desperate, unseemly and racist.
“They are trying to throw out these codes,” said Representative Gregory Meeks, a Democrat from New York.
“He’s ‘not one of us?’” Mr. Meeks said, referring to a comment Sarah Palin made at a campaign rally on Oct. 6 in Florida. “That’s racial. That’s fear. They know they can’t win on the issues, so the last resort they have is race and fear.”
“Racism is alive and well in this country, and McCain and Palin are trying to appeal to that and it’s unfortunate,” said Representative Ed Towns, also from New York.
In recent days, as polls have shown a steady lead for the Democratic ticket, Mr. McCain and Ms. Palin have used reports of Mr. Obama’s loose association with Bill Ayers, a former member of the ’60s radical group the Weather Underground, as evidence that he is different from them.
“Our opponent,” Ms. Palin told donors in Englewood, Colo., “is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough, that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.”
She added, “This is not a man who sees America like you and I see America,” she said. “We see America as a force of good in this world. We see an America of exceptionalism.”
An Associated Press analysis characterized those remarks as “unsubstantiated” and carrying “a racially tinged subtext.”
Neither Mr. McCain nor Ms. Palin has backed off the line of attack.
Again invoking Mr. Obama’s intermittent encounters with Mr. Ayers, Mr. McCain asked a crowd in Albuquerque, N.M., on Oct. 6, “Who is the real Barack Obama?” Someone in the crowd screamed in reply, “a terrorist!” Mr. McCain grimaced, but kept going.
Before Ms. Palin took the stage in Estero, Fla., at the Oct. 6 event, one of the introductory speakers, Mike Scott, the sheriff of Lee County, referred to the Democratic candidate as “Barack Hussein Obama,” a practice the McCain campaign has distanced itself from in the past. Apparently, no longer. Ms. Palin also said that she had advised Mr. McCain to “take the gloves off” and said Mr. Obama was “not one of us.”
David Bositis, senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and an expert on African-American issues, said that most Americans were too busy worrying about their economic future to concentrate on Mr. McCain’s comments on the stump. To the extent that people were listening, though, he said his remarks would be “not just crossing the line but introducing serious ugliness into the race.”
Other black members of Congress, all Democrats who support Mr. Obama, said they were dismayed by the new and vicious tenor of the McCain attacks.
“If McCain’s attacks don’t cross the line, they’re certainly teetering on it,” said Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois. “He is certainly appealing to people’s fears and not their hopes.”
Mr. Jackson took issue with the McCain campaign’s attack on Mr. Obama’s connection to Mr. Ayers, who committed acts of domestic terrorism when Mr. Obama was 8 years old, and contrasted that with Mr. McCain’s long relationships with erstwhile supporters of segregation in the Senate like Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond.