Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama has quietly begun airing a television commercial countering an outside group that is spending $2.8 million in an attempt to highlight his relationship with a former 1960s radical.
The 30-second TV spot is a response to an ad by the conservative American Issues Project, a nonprofit group that questions Obama's ties to William Ayers, a founder of the Weather Underground organization that took credit for a series of bombings, including nonfatal explosions at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol four decades ago.
"With all our problems, why is John McCain talking about the 60s, trying to link Barack Obama to radical Bill Ayers," the Obama ad states. "McCain knows Obama denounced Ayers' crimes, committed when Obama was just 8 years old."
Though McCain is not airing the anti-Obama ad, the group that produced and paid for it is financed by a McCain fundraiser and one of its board members is a former consultant to McCain's presidential campaign.
Harold Simmons contributed nearly $2.9 million to the American Issues Project to air the ad. He was a major contributor four years ago to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Simmons, CEO of Dallas-based Contran Corp., has also raised $50,000-$100,000 for McCain's presidential campaign.
By Monday afternoon, the American Issues Project ad has already aired about 150 times in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Michigan, according to Evan Tracey, head of TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group, an ad tracking firm.
An Obama response was known to be running in the Youngstown, Ohio, market, Tracey said. The Obama campaign did not announce the release of the ad, even though it publicly disclosed another anti-McCAin ad released Monday.
Ayers is now a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He and Obama live in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood and served together on the board of the Woods Fund, a Chicago-based charity that develops community groups to help the poor. Obama left the board in December 2002.
Obama also was the first chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a school reform group of which Ayers was a founder. Ayers also held a meet-the-candidate event at his home for Obama when Obama first ran for office in the mid-1990s.
Obama has denounced Ayers' past activities.
The ad is being aired as Republicans push for more complete disclosure of the links between Obama and Ayers.
On Tuesday, the University of Illinois at Chicago will make available records of Obama's service on the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. The group was set up to improve the city's schools.
"This response ad is more smoke and mirrors from a candidate desperate to obscure his long-standing relationship with admitted domestic terrorist William Ayers," said Ed Martin, American Issues Project's president. "Senator Obama is pretending to barely know the man who hosted the launch of his political career and with whom he has worked for years to advance a liberal agenda."
The McCain campaign cannot coordinate efforts with outside groups. But the campaign took advantage of being the target of the ad to respond.
"The fact that Barack Obama chose to launch his political career at the home of an unrepentant terrorist raises more questions about Senator Obama's judgment than any TV ad ever could," said McCain spokesman Brian Rogers.