Senator John McCain delved on Sunday into remarks made by Senator Barack Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., saying it was “beyond belief” that Mr. Wright had likened the Romans at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion to the Marines and had suggested that the United States was acting like Al Qaeda under a different color flag.
Up to now, Mr. McCain had largely avoided talking about the incendiary views of Mr. Wright, saying he wanted to run a “respectful” campaign. He has even called on the North Carolina Republican Party to pull an advertisement that focuses on Mr. Wright.
But Mr. McCain took a different approach at a news conference here when he criticized Mr. Wright for, as the senator paraphrased him, “comparing the United States Marine Corps with Roman legionnaires who were responsible for the death of our Savior, I mean being involved in that” and for “saying that Al Qaeda and the American flag were the same flags.”
“So I can understand, I can understand why people are upset about this,” said Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president. “I can understand why Americans, when viewing these kinds of comments, are angry and upset.”
Still against N.C. ad
Mr. McCain said that he did not believe that Mr. Obama, Democrat of Illinois, shared those views and that he was still against the advertisement in North Carolina. But he suggested that Mr. Obama had made the subject fair play by declaring in an interview shown over the weekend on “Fox News Sunday” that questions about Mr. Wright were “a legitimate political issue.”
“If he believes that,” Mr. McCain said, “then it will probably be a political issue.”
The Obama campaign accused Mr. McCain of breaking his promise to run a respectful campaign.
“By sinking to a level that he specifically said he’d avoid,” said an Obama campaign spokesman, Hari Sevugan, “John McCain has broken his word to the American people and rendered hollow his promise of a respectful campaign.”
Mr. McCain’s remarks were a shift in tone. Just last week, he wrote a letter to Linda Daves, the chairwoman of the North Carolina Republican Party, in which he said that “in the strongest terms I implore you not to run this advertisement.”
“The television advertisement you are planning to air,” he added in the letter, “degrades our civics and distracts us from the very real differences we have with the Democrats.”
The party ignored his entreaty, prompting Democrats to question how hard Mr. McCain had tried to get the spot pulled. At the news conference on Sunday, he said that while he still did not believe the advertisement should run, he would not continue to try to be “the referee.”
Some Republicans have worried that by not using the Wright issue, Mr. McCain was denying himself a potentially potent weapon.
But in recent days, Mr. McCain has stepped up his attacks on Mr. Obama on other fronts. He questioned Mr. Obama’s association with William Ayers, a former member of the radical group Weather Underground. And he also said of a supportive statement that a member of Hamas had made about Mr. Obama: “It’s clear who Hamas wants to be the next president of the United States.”
This article, , originally appeared in The New York Times.