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McCain Disavows Comments About Obama

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LIZ SIDOTI | February 26, 2008 10:58 PM EST | AP

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CINCINNATI — Republican John McCain quickly denounced the comments of a radio talk show host who while warming up a campaign crowd referred repeatedly to Barack Hussein Obama and called the Democratic presidential candidate a "hack, Chicago-style" politician.

Hussein is Obama's middle name, but talk show host Bill Cunningham used it three times as he addressed the crowd before the likely Republican nominee's appearance.

"Now we have a hack, Chicago-style Daley politician who is picturing himself as change. When he gets done with you, all you're going to have in your pocket is change," Cunningham said as the audience laughed.

The time will come, Cunningham added, when the liberal-leaning media will "peel the bark off Barack Hussein Obama" and tell the truth about his relationship with indicted fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko and how Obama got "sweetheart deals" in Chicago.

McCain wasn't on stage or, he says, in the building when Cunningham made the comments, but he quickly distanced himself from the radio talk show host after finishing his speech. McCain spoke to a couple hundred people at Memorial Hall in downtown Cincinnati.

"I apologize for it," the Arizona senator told reporters, addressing the issue before they had a chance to ask about Cunningham's comments.

"I did not know about these remarks, but I take responsibility for them. I repudiate them," he said. "My entire campaign I have treated Senator Obama and Senator (Hillary Rodham) Clinton with respect. I will continue to do that throughout this campaign."

McCain called both Democrats "honorable Americans" and said, "I want to dissociate myself with any disparaging remarks that may have been said about them."

Asked whether the use of Obama's middle name _ the same as former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein _ is proper, McCain said: "No, it is not. Any comment that is disparaging of either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama is totally inappropriate."

McCain said he didn't know who allowed Cunningham to speak but said he was sure it was in coordination with his campaign. He said he didn't hear the comments and has never met Cunningham, but "I will certainly make sure that nothing like that happens again."

Later, on his radio show, Cunningham expressed disappointment with McCain's apology and said he would endorse Clinton as a result.

"Did John McCain repudiate me? When he didn't hear the remarks at all? He didn't hear them. He just threw me under the bus to the national media," Cunningham said on local radio station WLW. "I've had it with McCain. I'm going to endorse Hillary Clinton. I'm going to throw my support behind Hillary Clinton."

Cunningham also disputed McCain's assertion that the two had never met.

Responding to McCain's apology, Obama spokesman Bill Burton said, "It is a sign that if there is a McCain-Obama general election, it can be intensely competitive but the candidates will attempt to keep it respectful and focused on issues."

Last fall, McCain faced criticism for initially not repudiating a voter in South Carolina who called Clinton a "bitch." McCain chuckled in response to the voter's question, but didn't embrace the epithet. A few minutes later, he said he respected Clinton, a New York senator and colleague.

Aside from using Obama's middle name, Cunningham also mocked the Illinois senator's foreign policy statements about his willingness to meet with the leaders of rogue nations. He said he envisions a future in which "the great prophet from Chicago takes the stand and the world leaders who want to kill us will simply be singing Kumbaya together around the table with Barack Obama."

At one point, Cunningham compared Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Madeleine Albright, whom he said "looks like death warmed over." He also commented on the difference between former Ohio Rep. Rob Portman, whose wife is named Jane, and Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay member of Congress. "Jane's the main difference. But that's a different story," Cunningham said.

As Cunningham finished, Portman, who is mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate, took the microphone to introduce McCain.

"Willie, you're out of control again. So, what else is new? But we love him," Portman said. "But I've got to tell you, Bill Cunningham lending his voice to this campaign is extremely important. He did it in 2000, he did it in 2004. It was crucial to victory then and it's even more important this year with his bigger radio audience. So, Bill Cunningham, thank you for lending your voice."

Speaking to reporters later alongside McCain, Portman said: "I was backstage so I didn't hear everything he said. Bill Cunningham is a radio talk show host who is often controversial so it does not surprise me that he was controversial." He added: "That's, I guess, how he makes his living."