Shouts of “terrorist” and “treason” aimed at Barack Obama have echoed around Republican rallies, whipping up into alarming, hate-filled frenzies against the Democratic White House hopeful.
Republican presidential nominee John McCain has taken to asking, “Who is the real Barack Obama?” at campaign events this week, leading one supporter in Pennsylvania, a blue-collar battleground state to shout back, “he is a bomb.”
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Before the rally, local Republican leader Bill Platt warmed up the crowd by several times referring to “Barack Hussein Obama,” focusing on the Illinois senator's middle name, trying to highlight his differences with other Americans.
Chants of “Nobama, Nobama” mingled with cries of “terrorist,” as one banner in the crowd declared: “Go ahead, let the dogs out.”
The stream of vicious attacks against Obama, who has left McCain trailing in the polls, were ramped up at the weekend by Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin who accused the Chicago senator of “palling around with terrorists.”
Palin was referring to Bill Ayers, a founding member of the Weathermen, a radical leftist group in the 1960s, who served with Obama as a board member on a charitable foundation from 1999 to 2001.
Now when she mentions Obama, some of the crowds' responses have escalated beyond boos and hisses, and there are fears among some observers that the attacks are going too far.
Obama's running mate Joe Biden has repudiated Palin's “ugly inferences” and personal attacks as “beyond disappointing”.
“They're trying to take the low road to the highest office in the land,” the Democratic VP candidate said.
On Thursday, the McCain campaign issued a hard-hitting negative commercial, slamming his rival's judgement and candor and accusing him of not telling the truth about the extent of his acquaintance with Ayers.
Republicans' negative tack
On the campaign trail in Waukesha, in the northern state of Wisconsin, McCain and Palin appeared to have tempered their attack on Thursday, focusing instead on policy, rather than personal differences with the Democratic candidate.
McCain slammed Obama on his alleged ties to banking giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, blamed Obama for having “never taken on the leadership of his own party on any issue,” and for his position on raising taxes on wealthy Americans, among other issues.
But still, on the Ayers issue which seems to have energized some of the angriest McCain supporters, the campaign is not backing away from its negative tack.
“It's about Senator Obama being candid and straight forward with the American people and their relationship,” McCain told Fox News.
“He has dismissed it by saying he was just a guy in the neighborhood. You know it's much more than that.”
'Deeply offensive smears'
Obama himself has said little on the topic, leaving it to Joe Biden to come to his defense.
“This is volatile stuff and … I just thought we were kind of beyond this place,” Biden told ABC television.
If Palin heard hate-filled shouts from the crowds, she should be “at least saying 'whoa, whoa, whoa that's overboard,'” Biden said.
In an email to supporters on Thursday, Biden said: “I've heard some pretty unspeakable things in the past few days — deeply offensive smears that we'll hear over and over again until election day.
“Instead of focusing on the issues that really matter, our opponents are doing everything they can to encourage this toxic atmosphere.”