John McCain sought to walk back some of the hostility that he and his crowds have projected towards Barack Obama in recent days, saying he wanted to run a respectful campaign and urging his supporters to think of Obama as a decent person.
After an attendee at his town hall said he was concerned about bringing up a child under a president who "cohorts with domestic terrorists such as [Bill] Ayers," McCain didn't take the bait. Rather, he sought to calm the questioner's obviously emotional tone.
"[Senator Obama] is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared about as President of the United States," he said, before adding: "If I didn't think I would be one heck of a better president I wouldn't be running."
McCain was subsequently booed.
Later in the townhall McCain was pressed again about Obama's "other-ness" and again he refused to take the bait.
"He is a decent family man and citizen that I just have disagreements with on fundamental issues," he said.
Earlier in the campaign stop in Lakeville, Minnesota, he told the crowd that while he was "going to take the gloves off" when it came to bringing up Obama's voting record and past associations, the campaign would remain "respectful."
There are two possible interpretations to the somewhat conciliatory tone. McCain could be sensing a political backlash to the vitriol of his crowds, which have labeled Obama a terrorist and traitor, accused him of treason, and called for his death. Certainly, polling suggests raising the Ayers issue has done relatively little to advance McCain's electoral cause. Or he could be playing a classic political game, in which he leaves the mudslinging to his campaign and vice president while he himself stays clean and above the fray.
After all, just hours before McCain spoke, his aide Brian Rogers sent a statement to reporters defending the McCain-Palin audiences as everyday Americans.