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Anti-Obama anger erupts at McCain events

Some of the anger is getting raw at Republican rallies as supporters of John McCain see his presidential campaign lag, and John McCain is mostly letting that rage flare.
McCain 2008
Sen. John McCain greets supporters at a rally in La Crosse, Wis., on Friday.Gerald Herbert / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Some of the anger is getting raw at Republican rallies and John McCain is mostly letting it flare.

A sense of grievance spilling into rage has gripped some GOP events as McCain supporters see his presidential campaign lag against Barack Obama. They're making it personal, against the Democrat. Shouts of "traitor," "terrorist," "treason," "liar," and even "off with his head" have rung from the crowd at McCain and Sarah Palin rallies, and gone unchallenged by them.

Presidential candidates are accustomed to raucous rallies this close to Election Day and welcome the enthusiasm. But they are also traditionally monitors of sorts from the stage. Part of their job is to leaven proceedings if tempers run ragged and to rein in an out-of-bounds comment from the crowd.

Not so much this week, at GOP rallies in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida and other states.

When a visibly angry McCain supporter in Waukesha, Wis., on Thursday told the candidate "I'm really mad" because of "socialists taking over the country," McCain stoked the sentiment. "I think I got the message," he said. "The gentleman is right." He went on to talk about Democrats in control of Congress.

The anti-Obama taunts and jeers are noticeably louder when McCain appears with Palin, a big draw for GOP social conservatives. She accused Obama this week of "palling around with terrorists" because of his past, loose association with a 1960s radical. If less directly, McCain, too, has sought to exploit Obama's Chicago neighborhood ties to William Ayers, while trying simultaneously to steer voters' attention to his plans for the financial crisis.

More subdued without Palin
The Alaska governor did not campaign with McCain on Friday, and his rally in La Crosse was much more subdued than those earlier in the week when the two campaigned together. Still, one woman shouted "traitor" when McCain told voters Obama would raise their taxes.

Volunteers worked up chants from the crowd of "U.S.A." and "John McCain, John McCain," in an apparent attempt to drown out boos and other displays of negative energy.

Palin, at a fundraiser in Ohio on Friday, told supporters "it's not negative and it's not mean-spirited" to scrutinize Obama's iffy associations.

McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said Friday the outbursts weren't a "big deal," but acknowledged considerable frustration among some of the candidate's supporters.

"Political rallies have always attracted people who are emotionally connected to the outcome of the election," Davis said, adding, "I'm confident it has nothing to do with what our candidates are doing or saying right now."

Obama disputed that assessment at a campaign rally in Chillicothe, Ohio, on Friday. "It's easy to rile up a crowd by stoking anger and division," Obama said. "In the last couple of days, we've seen a barrage of nasty insinuations and attacks."

The Obama campaign has kept up a daily drumbeat about McCain's "lies" and the Democratic candidate himself has routinely distorted his rival's record and agenda. Obama calls McCain "erratic" in a subtle but unmistakable attempt to exploit questions about the Republican's age and temperament. But his rallies and rhetoric have lacked the personal venom coming at him from the other side.

Secret Service investigates
The Secret Service confirmed Friday that it had investigated an episode reported in The Washington Post in which someone in Palin's crowd in Clearwater, Fla., shouted "kill him," on Monday, meaning Obama. There was "no indication that there was anything directed at Obama," Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren said. "We looked into it because we always operate in an atmosphere of caution."

Fitting with McCain's theme that people don't know enough about Obama, his co-chairman Frank Keating broached a subject Thursday that got one of Hillary Rodham Clinton's advisers removed from her inner circle during her Democratic primary campaign.

Keating described Obama as a "guy of the street" who should be more candid about his drug use as a young man. Obama wrote about his teenage experimentation with drugs and alcohol in his memoirs.

The McCain campaign began running a new television ad criticizing Obama for his relationship with Ayers, a founder of the violent Weather Underground group during the Vietnam War era. Obama and Ayers are neighbors in Chicago, and the two once served together on a charity board. Ayers held a house party for Obama when he was launching his career in Chicago politics, but the two are not close friends.

"When convenient, he worked with terrorist Bill Ayers," the ad says. "When discovered, he lied."

In two events this week, warm-up speakers at GOP rallies have used Obama's middle name, Hussein, to seed doubts about the Democrat, a tactic meant to draw attention to the false rumors that Obama is a Muslim, as well as to belittle him. "On Nov. 4, let's leave Barack Hussein Obama wondering what happened," a sheriff told Palin's Florida rally.

McCain once stepped forward directly to denounce that tactic. This week, his campaign merely issued a lukewarm criticism that tried to score a political point in the same breath: "We do not condone this inappropriate rhetoric which distracts from the real questions of judgment, character and experience that voters will base their decisions on this November."

Some of the frustration at McCain's rallies is from people who want the candidate to go harder after Obama. In Waukesha, when a voter begged McCain to take a more combative tone toward Obama, McCain instead talked about the financial crisis.

"Could I just say very quickly, yes, I'll do that," McCain said. "But I also, my friends, want to address the greatest financial challenge of our lifetime with a positive plan for action."